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FATHER 
ALLAN'S 
ISLAND 




AMY MURR«f 



CORNELL 

UNIVERSITY 

LIBRARY 




FROM 



MUSIC UBftARV 



Cornell University Library 
ML 36S5.M98 1920 



Father Allan's island, 




3 1924 022 337 392 




The original of tiiis book is in 
tine Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 



http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924022337392 



FATHER ALLAN'S 
ISLAND 






u 



BY 

AMY MURRAY 

With a Faremori ig 

PADRAIC COLUM 



m 



NEW YOKK 

HAECOURT, BRACE AND HOWE 
1920 



COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY 
HARCOURT, BRACE AND HOWE, INC. 



Now that your day's darg is done, Father Allan, 
they are many that will be saying it was something 
over-much, and your wage something under a man's 
wage. But I shall tell them, that was never your 
own way of thinking. 

Then one and another shall ask. Who is this to 
be speaking for Father Allan? She came and she 
went (they shall say) as the sea- ware that oomes 
and goes forth on the tide, and as the sea-gull that 
lights and is away again. How then should she be 
knowing? 

Well, — ^but isn't it said on the Edge of the World, 

There "mil come in an hour 
What will not come in an age? 



CONTENTS 

Foreword Padraic Colum vii 

Eriskay 3 

True Edge of the Great World .... i8 

Mass at Dalibrog 33 

Stravaiging 38 

Rudha Ban 71 

"Father Domin" at Work 86 

The "Othering" of the Weather .... 134 

The Celtic Gloom 139 

Ceilidh 157 

Father Allan's Own Fire-End 192 

A Church for Fishermen 217 

Cow of Curses 225 

The Ferry to Polachar 233 

Oidhche Mhath 239 



FOREWORD 

How, I ask myself as I read the pages of Father 
Allan's Island, how did Miss Murray discover so 
dramatic a way of writing? What she writes is nar- 
rative, but narrative made bare of exposition and 
with dramatic presentation in its stead. All of us 
who write about remote places and unfamiliar peo- 
ples would like to know how she came to her dis- 
covery. 

Her phrase, her curious words, her rare gift of 
appropriate lyrical description, give atmosphere to 
this dramatic presentation. But the style itself, its 
inner rhythm, must have come to her as something 
living. Undoubtedly she found it in the black houses 
that she writes about. Sitting by the peat fire at 
the ceilidh, where "the first tale is from the host and 
tales from the guests until daylight," she learnt of 
those cadences and emphasises that give to the folk- 
tale its dramatic flow. Such an inner rhythm with 
powerful memories behind it — the flash of the clay- 
more, the gleam of the dirk — is in the vivid and 
vigorous stories of Neil Munro's Lost Pibroch. 
And such an inner rhythm quickens the grand 
renderings of Campbell's Folk Tcdes of the West 



viii FOREWORD 

Highlands — old Campbell of Islay, the father of 
them all! 

As with Campbell, as with Neil Munro, it is Miss 
Murray's necessity and delight to draw into her nar- 
rative words that seem to belong to the rocks and 
the moorlands — Gaelic words Englished; English 
words that have been left with the outlanders. A 
little of the delight of reading Father Allan's Island 
is due to these estrayents — words that are like the 
red-brown sails that Miss Murray speaks of amongst 
the steamers in our harbours. Miss Murray has, too, 
a gift that is very much her own — I have spoken of 
it already as her appropriate lyrical description — 
"Out-by, across a water not so wide but that in May 
time you shall hear the cuckoo from the one shore to 
the other, a mountain lies sunk to the shoulders. This 
water is the Kyles, and that yonder Father Allan's 
Island." What could be more charming and fitting 
than this description that is on one of the first pages? 
And what words could be more friendly than the 
words she has found for the peat fire of the chimney- 
less black houses? — "The good fire that's down 
at your feet the better so to warm them. The 
friendly one that sits not away in the wall with it- 
self, but out where the neighbours can all get round 
it, and look each other in the face across it, with no 
such coldness at the back as plagues you in your 
house with a chimney !" 

Comparisons, I imagine, will be made between this 



FOREWORD ix 

book and Synge's The Aran Islands. But they are 
books that are far apart. Synge's is introspective, 
analytical — even psycho-analytical — while Miss 
Murray's has the spirit of clear adventure. In 
Synge, too, we are aware of a community; for all 
his solitariness, all his distrust of political methods, 
there are in his book the marginal notes of a sociol- 
ogist. In Father Allan's Island there is just a man 
and perhaps a dozen neighbours. It is worth noting 
that both J. M. Synge and Miss Murray made them- 
selves welcomed by what they brought with them in 
musical communicativeness — J. M. Synge with his 
old fiddle, and Miss Murray with her "little harp of 
twenty-eight strings." 

It is the quest of song that gives continuity to 
this book — the quest of the song that has a spell on 
it. But it is the friendship that the story celebrates 
that gives it its human reality. "The Isles are one 
thing: the Islesrrian himself is another," Miss 
Murray writes, and if she had written about the 
Isles as she might have seen them without Father 
Allan MacDonald she might have given us another 
bit of the Celtic Gloom. But Father Allan is there 
to breast the mist. He moves heroically and he 
talks humanly. The Island of his labours may be 
known by names that make it seem as remote as the 
Islands to which Bran or Brendan voyaged — The 
Isle of Youth, The True Edge of the Great World — 
but in Father Allan we have the embodiment of a 



X FOREWORD 

people who live not by dreams but by labours, hero- 
ism and kindliness. Miss Murray has left us, not 
merely a portrait of her friend, but the mould and 
form of the Gaelic gentleman, the true duine-ncasal. 

There are dreams and visions here — sea-maidens 
and water-horses, wraiths and troubling spirits ; there 
are memories of high romance — "The sweet, high- 
sounding things that only poets and lovers say in 
the Great World, are in the mouths of herd-boys on 
the Edge of it." There is music here and poetry — 
elemental music, and such poetry as Synge heard on 
his island — "The rude and beautiful poetry that has 
in it the oldest passions in the world." 

Lately we have been reading a great deal about 
Islands otherwhere — Islands in tropic seas, where 
there are fruits and fragrance and flower-girdled 
girls. Miss Murray brings us to an Island at the 
other side of all this, — 

Where many's the sowing of storms, 
Where few are the sowings of seeds. 

And amongst a people who have it in them to 
awaken in us all that is heroic and austere. It is 
this shore, "trod by no tropic feet," that still holds 
the visions and the music, and the memories of lovers 
and saints and rovers of an honour-keeping race. — 

Brave hearts, ye never did aspire 

Wholly to things of earth. 

Padraic CoLUM'. 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



FATHER ALLAN'S 
ISLAND 

ERISKAY 

On the map of Scotland, in the upper left-hand 
comer of it, you shall see a chain of islands great 
and small, and Father Allan's Island small 
amongst them. Not half the length of her own 
name indeed (which name is ERISKAY ^), though 
the map were as big as you could hold in your two 
hands. 

Yet in and about her I would warrant you more 
ways than you could well be walking in, more sights 
to be seeing, more songs to be singing, more diver- 
sion to be trying than you'd have the time for, once 
you got her underfoot; though you abode (as I) from 
a Lady-Day to near St. Michaels. And that's for 
a good six weeks. 

But first you've to get yourself across the Minch, 
wherein that current that sets northwards and south- 
wards between the Outer Isles and Skye meets with 
the full swell of the Atlantic. And I'm telling you 
you're in for some mishandling here, most days, 

^ £r-is-ky. 

3 



4 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

aboard the Plover. "An Admiral in the Royal 
Navy's succumbed to the rolling of my boat," her 
skipper tells you with a certain pride. . . . You 
take her at Oban at six of a Wednesday or a Friday 
morning, and at four or thereby in the same after- 
noon I'll warrant you not sorry to be set ashore. 
That will be at Lochboisdale in Uist,^ and nowise 
so near your journey's ending as your map would 
seem to promise you; though if a boat from Eriskay 
were here in harbour, a boat with a great red-brown 
sail, homeward-bound from the herring-fishing and 
the skipper willing, in other two hours you might 
make it. But that's an ill way for poor sailors. 
Take my advice and foot it (unless you've the luck 
to get a lift) eight miles or so across the machair ^ 
(moorland) to Kilbride. 

By "kil" in the name of a place, you'll know that 
some kind of a chapel (all), or a hermit's cell at 
least, sometime was thereabout. There's nothing 
here nowadays but shore-rocks and the sands. 
Out-by, across a water not so wide but that in May- 
time you shall hear the cuckoo from the one shore 
to the other, a mountain lies sunk to the shoulders. 
This water is the Kyles, and that yonder. Father 
Allan's Island. 

Twice-a-week a boat fetches and carries the post : 
for the sake of a six-pence, that's your next best way. 

'Yu-ist. 

'Mach-er, — ch guttural. 



ERISKAY 5 

But so beset with rocks and reefs and tide-shoals 
is the passage, so in peril of winds and the mist, 
that whether you'll wait for an hour or a week 
there's no telling. 

Many a long hour was Father Allan waiting 
here, when he was priest in Eriskay and Uist too. 
And one time in the Wolf-Month of Winter, after 
he had gone to live in Eriskay, no boat could put 
from harbour good eleven days on end. 

When at last one made it, and he waited while the 
post-bag was looked over, he heard a man say to 
another: 

"Dh' fhalbh a' cJmlleach (the old woman's 
gone)." 

"Co a' chailleach (what old woman) ?" 

"CcdlleacJi i-fhm (the Old Woman Herself)." 

"Co' i-fhm (what 'Herself')?" 

"Cailleach a-Stiuradh (the Old Woman that's 
Steering)." 

"Och, — dh' fhalbh i mu dheideadh (has she gone 
at last) ?" 

So that's the way it came to Father Allan's 
Island, — the news of the death of the Queen of 
Great Britain and Ireland. 

Going or coming, from this world to the next, 
or from this side the Kyles to the other, all's one 
in Father Allan's Island. The man waiting long at 
the ferry gets over at last serves any man in either 
case to say. 



6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

For what more can he be doing than to wait, 
whether on the wind's will or on that great Over- 
Will (nowise less wayward than the other to all 
seeming) that moves in his own destinies? 

With milk, with wine, with oil poured out on the 
waters his forbears sought to bribe the one. 

So now with his tithings and telling of beads 
would he propitiate the other, and withal abides the 
outcome meekly. 

Which last it were as well for one to do, that's 
bound for Father Allan's Island. 

However, no more than the mouth of a mile to 
the westward is what might be, by the name of it, 
a town — Polachar. An inn and a peat-stack's all 
there is to it to-day, or ever was, so far as I am hear- 
ing. Something up from the strand, yet not so far 
but that the spindrift may spatter the panes when 
the wind is off the water; two floors to it, white- 
harled and snug, with a gravelled door-land before 
it; a throng place, what time the gentry of Uist and 
Barra would be crossing this way to and fro and 
stopping here in-by for what would keep the mist 
out. Nowadays the Plover takes these round by 
way of Lochboisdale and Castlebay, where indeed 
you may mingle with much more gentility than here, 
and spend more money too. For myself, I'd weary 
there. While here is not only what will keep the 
mist out well as ever, but all manner of comfort 



ERISKAY 7 

more solid: a place, Polachar, where plain people 
bound for Father Allan's Island may content them- 
selves, and more. For what with Seumas ^ the piper 
in the townland next, forbye both men-and- women- 
singers handy, you'll not feel time passing: before 
you'd be knowing, so soon as any sort of a decent 
day befell, Gilleaspuig would be coming over. With 
the wind at your back and the tide in your favour, 
you ought to be making it in half-an-hour. 

Father Allan's Island turns her back to the Minch 
and a cold shoulder to the Sound of Barra, facing 
west across a sort of inland sea that opens to the 
Atlantic — this latter to your right as you embark. 
Your course is laid to cut a corner of this sea. 
Father Allan's Island lying to your left. Off Barra 
(some ten miles ahead), in the roadstead where the 
brig Doutelle (that brought Prince Charlie) 
anchored, fleets have ridden. But into this nearer 
reach come only such boats as this that now con- 
veys you, — a fishing-boat, its sail dyed reddish- 
brown. You never see a white sail hereabout. Sails 
and nets, they dip them all into the one pot; and 
whether more swarthy, as when they first come out. 
or more ruddy, as after the sun and the spindrift 
were dealing with them, — blood-stained, earth- 
stained, rust-stained as may seem, — these dark sails 
please you oddly, far or near as you may glimpse 

^ Shay-rous. 



8 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

them in these misty reaches, set with bare up-stand- 
ing isles that are the peaks and uplands of a moun- 
tain-range half -sunk. The winds inhibit these of 
woody ground or orcharding: on Eriskay is not the 
heather nor the bracken nor the bent-grass that 
would mend a thatch. 

Yet because of the wind that blows here mainly, 
the Southwest wind that brings the mist from off 
the Banks, the bleak and the grey and the bare take 
on at short remove a bloom as of the plum or of the 
blaeberry, in sunshine hinting you more colours than 
I'd like to name. 

And when did landward hills see round them- 
selves the greens, the blues, the violets, that ebb and 
flow round these whose roots are in the floor of the 
deep sea? While overhead, all day and every day, 
is changing of fair and foul. 

Now comes the mist, now the rain, and now the 
sun-glint. And now the narrow cloud, no wider than 
would wet a croft (as crofts go hereabout) drifts 
with a rainbow in its skirts from isle to isle. 

Come night-time, and the full moon at your back, 
and against the flying rain-shower you shall see the 
moon-bow, white as the frost. 

Two hills — Beann Sgrithean ^ and Beann Stac — 
and a glen between them; Rudha Ban,^ the White 

* Skreen. 
'Ru-a Ban. 



ERISKAY 9 

Point that has Father Allan's chapel and his house 
upon its back; the uplands to the North and the 
linklands to the West, — that's all there is to Father 
Allan's Island. 

Thrust well out to the water, Beann Sgrithean's 
roots uphold the sand-dunes, the linklands and 
grass-lands, and most of the "black" houses. You'd 
swear none could climb him. Yet he'll hardly over- 
look Beann Stac across the glen, in whose crown is 
the peat-moss that keeps up half the fires that make 
the houses black. Any sort of a day — any day but 
a Sunday — you'll see the women backing empty 
creels up Beann Stac's side, and full ones down again. 

Rudha Ban stands out well from the shore: on 
the top of it the chapel and the chapel-house show 
slightly, for white mortar in their joints and for a 
wall round. But not so forth-putting the others, 
the "black" ones down below, whose blackness is 
within them. Squat, dwarfish, shaggy-thatched, and 
all one greyness with the hill's roots and the rubble 
round, the nettles and dockens standing tall on them 
as on the brae itself. . . . Where are they? you'll 
wonder, and you standing in with the land. When 
all on a sudden here's one . . . there's another . . . 
peeping forth like a face in a puzzle. 

Now all the year through, every night, round the 
fire on the floor in some one or another of these, the 
folk of each townland assemble for ceilidh,} Time 



10 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

out of mind, so did their forbears before. A ceilidh 
for tales, and a wedding or waulking for songs. But 
weddings and waulkings come never hereabout in 
summertime, while for a proper ceilidh you should 
wait until the corn is cut and in the byre, the peats 
cast and stacked, the women come home from their 
herring-gutting in the Shetlands, the long nights of 
winter setting in. It is then that they full, to the 
sound of singing, — for a songless web is unlucky, — 
the webs that they weave of the wool of their carding 
and spinning, — that'll be at a waulking. It is then 
that you hear the first tale from the host, and tales 
from the guest till daylight, — that'll be at a ceilidh. 
But the long summer days are the days for stravaig- 
ing; and that by rights should be a-foot. 

You might get the loan of a horse, to be sure, — 
och, yes ! and welcome. But it's a brace of peat-creels 
he'll be used to backing mostly. Carts there are 
none in Father Allan's Island, nor causeways either. 
"We had a very good road once, but the hens 
scratched it up," Father Allan used to tell his vis- 
itors. . . . But the path that you see as a scratch 
across Beann Sgrithean's cheek drops down to the 
glen on the South of him, and climbs the uplands on 
the North of him, so taking you twice, if you will, 
to the Minch; while outside the path nothing at all 
is to hinder a good pair of boots from making their 
own way anywhere about. But see that you go by 



ERISKAY ai 

daylight. There's a stretch of the path that has an 
ill name after dark. 

And indeed you were wiser to stay in-doors then 
altogether, or at least where you at need may get 
outside high-water mark, or into the midst of the 
flock. 

For here abide not only crofters and fishermen 
plenty, and over-plenty for their keep, but plenty 
too of such as neither reap nor fish, fed on the vcdn 
desires of men, and shy of daylight mostly. At the 
mouth of the night, between daylight and dark, come 
abroad ill things to meet, from out the earth, from 
out the air, from out the water and the Under- 
World. 

By day, the Ones-tJiat-are-not-remcdning may 
come and may go as they like : by day, what is to be 
may show itself to such as have The Sight. By 
day, and they at the flounder-fishing, men are like 
to see the Mcdghdinn-Mhara} "She rose up in the 
water nigh us," one told Father Allan, "with a small 
face like a child's, and it a greyish-white colour like 
a statue. . . . And when we saw that, we knew it 
was time for us to be going." 

But the mouth of the night is the choice hour of 
the Sluagh^ the Host of the Dead, whose feet never 
touch on earth as they go drifting on the wind till 
Day of Burning; of the Fuadh,^ the Spirit of Ter- 

^ Madj-een V&r-a. 
' Sl&-og. 
• Fi-a. 



12 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

ror, that "frightens folk out of the husk of their 
hearts"; of the Washer, who sits at the ford with 
herself in the twilight; of the slim green-coated ones, 
the Water-horse, and what not. The light that is 
shadowless, colourless, softer than moonlight, is ever 
the light of their liking. At the mouth of the night, 
along the water-courses, by ways that at the hour 
of dusk and lateness you had best be shunning you 
are like to meet them; to west of the houses they 
pass, — what to do, who shall say? their ways being 
nowise human. 

At the mouth of the night, and the pot on tb' 
fire for his supper, the Sluagh once lifted a man at 
his own house-end at lochdar ^ in Uist, and set him 
down again between the graveyards at Dalibrog, 
seventeen miles away to eastward, and brought him 
back in time to see the pot come off. 

At the mouth of the night old Fionnaghal ^ in Ben- 
becula saw the Water-horse come up in the reeds at 
the edge of the lochan, and play about amongst 
them. 

It was the time of the Putting-away of the Peo- 
ple, she told Father Allan. She had been following 
on the herd a long way and was weary, and lay 
down to sleep in the heather. She woke at the mouth 
of the night, and then she saw him. . . . "His eyes 

^ £e-och-kar. 
° Fyo6n-a-gal. 



ERISKAY 13 

were taking (kindling), and his tail going round 
like the rim of a wheel." 

"And what do you think it was?" he asked her. 

"I think it was Black Donald himself," she made 
answer; as who should be saying, The One-we-won' t- 
mention. 

At the mouth of the night, the Water-horse may 
be a man, and go a-courting till the cock-crow. If 
any girl go away with him, that is the last of her. 
Next morning her heart and her liver will be float- 
ing on the water. . . . 

One time the Water-horse was in love, and took 
to wife a girl named Morag,^ the grey-eyed girl was 
telling me, — she that kept Father Allan's house for 
him. . . . "He was always trying to get her to go 
away with him, and at last she went, and she lived 
with him and had a child. But he was always up 
and away in the morning before the cock was crow- 
ing, and never was back till the mouth of the night, 
and he never would say where he went or what he 
was doing, and she was always finding the fine white 
sand amongst his hair. So she found him out and 
she left him." 

"And here he was coming up out of the water 
every night, and getting the child and singing to 
him, the way she would be hearing him and coming 
back: 

'M6r-ak. 



H FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

M. M. J=80. Plaintively. 



i 



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/^ V K 



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g^ 



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Mh6r a' ghaoil, a Mh6r a' ghaoil ! Till rid'mhac-an, 



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f^ 



5? — ^ 



's gheibh thu'n brad - an, Boidh - each breac uam, h-il 



s=s 



^^ 



^^1 



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^ 



i6-bha ho. H-il i6 bhah-aodh h-il id - bha ho. 

Gheibhinn dkuit fion, 

Gheibhinn dhuit flon; 

'S gach ni b'ait leat, 

Ach nach eirinn leat 's a' mhaduinn, 

H-ill-io-bha-hb, 

H-ill-io-bha-haodh, 

H-ill~io-bha-hd. 

Morag, love, — come back to your wee son ! I'll give you 
a fine speckled salmon, I'll give you wine. Every night 
I'll be with you, but I'll not be rising with you in the 
morning. 

"I wonder what they really are" she mused, and 
a far-away look in her eyes. "Is it just creatures? — 
or is it — you know !" 

"Did you ever see one ?" 

"No, — ^not I! But plenty I know that has." 

At the mouth of the night, on the path to the glen 
at its steepest, the Fuadh met a man in Father 
Allan's Island, and all but put him down the brae. 



ERISKAY 15 

And while I am hearing no such tales anent the path 
to Bun-cC -Mhuilinn^ yet I am seeing the young men 
coming there-along from ceilidh always two-and- 
two; while The Mischief Himself is in it surely to 
make yourself late to your dinner, set you out as 
you will from Rudha Ban soon as ever you get your 
porridge down. 

For at the very first of it you're like to find Gil- 
leaspuig mending nets at his own house-end in the 
harbour down below. Now, when your Outer Isle- 
man's hands are busy, the songs his forbears made 
to sweeten labour come into his mouth as at no other 
time at all. . . . 

Very well. . . . Striking eastwards now, you 
come out on the uplands, whence you view the Kyles 
endlong; a winding water, and in part a narrow 
one, to westward mingling with the inland sea. Uist 
hills overlie them and the inland sea as well : at their 
far end a mile or so of sand-links keeps the Atlantic 
out of their roots. Breaking down into cliffs at the 
end that's before you, here the boisterous Minch 
assails them, surging in between them and Beann 
Sgrithean to leap and fling in face of them, to foam 
and to frisk along their flanks, and to trouble the 
Kyles well-nigh their length. Far out-by in clear 
weather the Coolins in Skye show small, three- 
peaked, and harebell-blue. 

Now whether any way in all the world has out- 
look lovelier, I'm not in truth so travelled I may 

^ Boon-a-V6oIeen. 



i6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

say. But the man I'd see taking his feet out of it 
in a hurry on a fine day, I'd say he must be carrying 
fire. And I think one might take the world under 
his head nor anywhere else find such another one 
for ups and downs and links and turns. I said as 
much one day to Father Allan. . . . Well, it was 
just before the harvesting they made it, he answered, 
when the short straight way of it would take a man's 
feet here through oats, and there through barley 
ripening. So the path had to be as it is. 

A coaxer it is and a sly one. Think to make up 
your time, once past the sightly stretch of it, and 
still it has tricks would delay you. For here in a 
house in a hollow is a cailleach ^ who can give you 
waulking-songs no other one at all has nowadays; 
and in another you shall hear the Sgeul " of Michael 
Scott, — and that's one that Campbell of Islay him- 
self had never the luck to be hearing. And once 
let song be raised in a black house, or tale-telling 
brought to the fore, and you might as well be inside 
the Fairy Mound itself, for all the care you shall be 
giving to the time that's slipping past out-by. 

Now it was for these I came to Father Allan's 
Island. Yet if I between a Lady-Day and a St. 
Michael's took neither the length nor the breadth 
of her, that was more for Father Allan's own sake 
than for sake of song or sgeul. 

* Cill-yach — old woman. 
" Skale— tale. 



ERISKAY 17 

For not by the fires on the floors of the black 
houses was it that I sat, most nights whilst I abode 
in Father Allan's Island, but with Father Allan at 
his own fire-end, and many a day-long forbye. And 
when I would sometime be saying, "This will never 
do!" it was always, "Och, — ^you'll be coming back 
some day !" And so I thought myself. . . . 

Nine years ago and something more it is by now, 
and still I am not going; though many's the day I 
wish I smelt the good peat-reek again in Father 
Allan's Island, and many's the day I weary for the 
Southwest wind's rough hands amongst my hair, and 
for the salt sea-taste of it once more upon my tongue. 
Nor would I be thinking the way were too long, 
though I went in the Wolf-Month of Winter itself, 
so only I found whom I left there at the yonder end 
of it, nine years ago and something more it is by 
now. 

But never by land nor by sea shall I be finding 
me a way again to Father Allan. 

So here I sit at my own fire-end, in this New 
World whereunto he never came, calling up how for 
a season I forgathered with him in his island; what 
time it was as though he took my hand in his and 
my foot upon his own, after the old Highland way 
of one who has The Sight, when he would show his 
vision to another. 

And now let me be telling what it was I saw and 
heard. 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT 
WORLD 

In a sgeul that's to hear in a black house on the 
path to Biin-d'-MhuUinn, there's a young man trav- 
els North and North and North until he comes to 
FioR loMALL An Domhain Mh6ir ^ — the True 
Edge of the Great World. 

Now that last is a sort of bye-name that the Outer 
Isles have just amongst themselves. They've more 
of these than Love himself has in the Gaelic, and 
that's not a few. And if you were speaking with 
the people here and there about, I'd warrant you'd 
find none but had some other handle to the isle he 
lived in, extra to what's on the map. 

How Eriskay came by hers, — Eilean na-h-Oige^ 
the Island of Youth, — there's none in Eriskay so 
clever or so old that he can say. It's easier account- 
ing for that one so frequent in State papers of his 
Majesty James Sixth, — Innse-Gaill,^ or The Isles 
of the Strangers. For the tale of those same Stran- 
gers, who left the Norse words in the Gaelic and 
the white heads in the houses, was it not set down 

^ Feer-ya-mall an Dawn Vor. 
*Ail-yan na H6y-ga. 
'Inch-a Gal. 

l8 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 19 

in the Icelandic sagas, after viking-tide had ebbed 
Northwest from Innse-Gaill, six hundred years ago? 

Nor even when that tide stood at the full is it like 
the name — True Edge of the Great World — was 
new. Long or ever a long-ship steered west-viking, 
one Maelduinn, an Irish sailor, had made known how 
he was sighting, in waters further to the West than 
Innse Gaill, an island "full of human beings . . . 
resting not from wailing." ... So early was the 
Celtic Gloom discovered. . . . 

Well ! — old as it may be, the name is still a good 
one. For if Eilean-na-h-Oige hints you of a tale 
forgotten, and Innse-Gaill shall call up tales of 
Harold Fairhair, Magnus Barefoot, and the rest, 
here's a name to tell you the one tale or the two, 
as you shall take it. 

For here is the place for signs and warnings and 
fore-runners; the place of places for The Sight; a 
marchland between the Other-world and this, 
whereon the Ones-that-are-not-remaining are free as 
you or I to come and go. And that in their own 
looks, as they were man or woman still alive; nor 
in white, but in their own dark woollens, mind you, 
nor wanting their tongues. It's just, "I saw my 
brother standing by the fold, and he said . . ." what 
he had to be saying; or, "I looked up and there was 
my mother, and she said . . ." what she had to be 
saying. That's all there ever is to it, on the True 
Edge of the Great World. 



20 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Withal, a place to find one's self so well away as 
nowhere else, from that World that has to do with 
the Flesh and The One-we-won' t-mention. 

Some fourteen years ago, come harvest-moon, I 
was as near to the True Edge of the Great World 
as one may go dry-shod. 

Stravaiging for a fortnight in Argyll and Morven, 
I had thereafter crossed from Gairloch to Portree 
in Skye, on a morning of three breakfasts (one at 
five before the start, one aboard the Clansman, just 
to show myself a sailor, and one more for pure 
sociability in lodgings at Portree), and now had come 
to Kilmaluaig ^ in the North. Good walkers make it 
in one stretch from Portree: so too might I have 
done, if walking were all I was out for. As it was, 
I took two post-carts and I forget how many days 
to it, stopping for some three or four of them half- 
way at Uig.^ 

When at six of a lovely morning I set out again, 
the post-master himself was to drive me; and a fine 
old fellow he was too, with his white beard spread 
broad on his breast, and a Highland bonnet on his 
head; who never once stopped the pony for all his 
jumpings out and in the cart. "Yace," he said, 
smiling, when at last as he came trotting up-hill 
after me, I could not forbear to praise his vigour; 

* KiI-maI-6oag. 
' Oo-ig. 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 21 

"Yace, — when I wass a young man we had nothing 
at all but the oatmeal, and neffer saw white bread 
from one week to the other. But these young peo- 
ple noio — there is nothing at them at all but loafs 
and tea. . . . They are no good whateffer!" 

His little terrier, enchanted with her outing, fared 
on ahead so briskly for mile after mile and for hour 
after hour, that at last I wondered, Wouldn't she 
be tired? 

"Och, no!" he chuckled; "she doesn't know she's 
tired — she's so pleased!" 

At noon he dropped me to landward of the great 
peat-moss, in part reclaimed and growing com, that 
lies back from the Bay of Kilmaluaig. Here the 
Minch takes a mighty bite out of the island's black 
north rim. Black rocks half-circle it, thronged with 
duileasg^ (which the people boil and eat) and 
crusted with limpets : at low-tide someone is always 
pulling the one there or chip-chip-chipping at the 
other. Off-shore stand the black stacks and sker- 
ries for whose sake the boat for Stornoway gives 
Kilmaluaig Bay the go-by when the wind is in the 
North. On either hand, black cliffs; the moorland 
mounts their backs and makes them shaggy at the 
brows with heather and bog-myrtle. 

Between the moorland and the hills, whose tops 
you'll seldom glimpse for mistiness, the road runs: 

'Dul-usk. 



22 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

along it, or cuddled in neuks of the moor, are the 
houses and peat-stacks of a crofting townland. 
You'll be puzzled, till you're nigh them, to say 
which is which. But amongst them is an inn that 
rises to a story-and-a-half; and here, in the half- 
story, was a clean bed, and when I stepped out of it, 
a deer-skin to my feet; herein and hereabout, more- 
over, were good company and the best of manners. 
. . . 'Tm so sorry!" said a man when I met him 
at a wedding. "Was that you I saw down by the 

shore to-day? I thought it was Miss -. — 

(the minister's sister). If I had known it was a 
stranger, I would have asked you to go out in my 
boat." ... In the room under mine, the man-of-the 
house sold whiskey to fishermen and drovers: well 
up to midnight and most nights I could hear the 
scraping of their boots on the bare boards down 
below, but never a rough word out of them, nor even 
a loud one. Poor fellows! they were fairly whis- 
pering to each other, because of the stranger up-by. 

Once it was, when I was home again from a 
strange place, that one who is there now no longer 
always used to ask me. What did they have to eat? 
— a thing beneath no one's notice, she would say. 

Well, then! — we never failed of milk nor eggs 
nor porridge, and there were potatoes and rashers of 
ham, and oat-cake that the hean-an-tighe'^ baked. 
. . . That means, the woman-of-the-house — the 

* Ben-an-tJ-ya. 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 23 

Flower of Skye, they called her still, who had been 
lovely as a maiden. "We're not just used to stran- 
gers here," explained her husband, when I came 
asking, Could I have a bed? "But if we will be 
having a little time we will be catching some trouts, 
and maybe we can knock over a couple of rabbits up 
in the croft some night," all of which they did. Tea, 
water, and milk were my drink at most times. But 
I mind the morn's morn of a wedding and I not long 
a-bed (the sun was up before we started home across 
the moor), and the gentle Flower of Skye coming 
into my room with a glass in her hand, in which most 
assuredly was neither milk nor water nor yet tea. 
But, "It'll do ye no harm" she declared. 

Twice-a-week I could see from my window 
(weather permitting) a steamer at the mouth of our 
bay, thence standing over to the Lews, which 
(weather permitting) showed in the offing, small 
and periwinkle-blue; and at last this stirred within 
me the old westering instinct of my forbears. Could 
he be putting me out in his boat (weather permit- 
ting) the next time the Claymore was standing in? 
I asked one of the men. 

"But you'd far better stay with us," said he; 
"you're acquainted now, and you're well liked, and 
we will be having some weddings soon." 

Now there's nothing at all like a wedding for 
songs, and it was for songs that I had come. So I 
stayed out my time there, well content; and not until 



24 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

some four years after did I get to the True Edge of 
the Great World. 

Meanwhile I came to hear about the Celtic 
Gloom. 

No doubts but I should have had some notion of 
it long before, if not the thing itself within me, by 
virtue of the drop of Celtic blood that's there from 
a far-away forbear of mine. But somehow it hap- 
pens that whether or no the wiser for that same, it's 
little the sadder I am. Only for "Fiona MacLeod," 
it's like I'd never misdoubted what I'd missed, in 
life and my stravaiging, too: so far, at all events, 
no Celtic Gloom nor other had I marked in High- 
lands, in Skye, or in myself. But I might be try- 
ing the Isles for it, thought I. 

And so, when I set out again, equipped as before 
with a little of the Gaelic, and with such small skill 
of the Old Modes in music as would serve me in the 
catching-up and setting-down of old-time tunes, it 
was not only, as before, to be picking up here a rann 
(rhymed saying), and there an oran (song), and to 
be pleasing myself anew with observation every- 
where amongst the folk whose forbears were of my 
own forbears' race. I was now on a quest of the 
Celtic Gloom. . . . And that in all good faith, 
you'll understand, the notion having taken me most 
mightily; though I kept that one part of my pur- 
pose to myself, and asked no speeding for it. 

Speeding I got, though, and that of the best — in 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 25 

my pocket a letter in the beautiful small hand-o'- 
write of Henry Jenner, to "The Reverend Father 
Allan McDonald, Priest of Eriskay." 

Mr. Jenner, then Celtic Librarian at the British 
Museum, while following on Prince Charlie's track 
throughout the Outer Hebrides one summer, had 
there fallen in with Father Allan. A king in his 
own island, no one could do me such service with 
the singers, Mr. Jenner said, nor was there anyone 
in all the Isles like him for folk-lore. Some little 
doubt was of his present welfare, he being a man 
much broken by his work. But in Edinburgh I got 
good and late news of him, and the same rede from 
Alexander Carmichael, who had gathered his Car- 
mina Gadelica amongst the Outer Isles themselves. 
"Tell Father Allan you are my friend," said he. 

But when I came off the 'Plover at Lochboisdale, 
sorely mishandled by the Minch, it was to learn that 
Father Allan was away on a holiday. So I got a 
lift to Dalibrog, there to stop with the three nuns 
at Bute Hospital until he should be coming back. 

I had not long to wait. The very next day at 
low tide, when you may cross from North Uist to 
Benbecula and thence to South Uist on sea-bottom, 
Father Allan drove southwards through the fords 
and came to the chapel-house at Dalibrog. This was 
on a Saturday : the next morning he was to say Mass 
there for Father McDougall, who was off on his 
own holidays, and to go home in the afternoon. 



26 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Sister Casimer sent up word that I was with them: 
he at once returned answer, Would Miss Murray be 
so very good as to come up to him — ^he being so very 
tired? 

Bute Hospital and Dalibrog Chapel stand about a 
mile apart on the machair of Uist, which is a twenty 
miles of bog and sand, pricked and sown with rocks ; 
inset with lochans, salt and fresh, rock-tarns, peat- 
pools and plashes, long tongues of the sea that lap 
black mud a mile inland. A draughty place, the 
machair, and at the Hospital a trifle below sea- 
level. The chapel stands by as much above it: it 
was up, then, that I went by the machair-xo^A that 
evening, myself not a little weary from stravaiging 
well-nigh all day long. 

When Father Allan opened the door to me, I saw 
the red of a good peat-fire at his back. He stood 
up tall against it, straight and lean, with that lift 
of the head and that glint in the eye that seem to 
say — before one is saying anything — "Well, here are 
you, and here am I !" . . . A fair man, and greying 
a little, clean-shaven of course, weather-beaten, 
high-cheek-boned, the lower lip the least bit to the 
fore. For a breath I had the sense that I was taken 
in from top to toe. . . . Then, "I heard you were 
on your way!" With this, bowing a little as he 
took my hand gently into one agreeably smooth and 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 27 

warm, he brought me in and put me down at one 
side the fire, himself at the other. 

So this was Father Allan. . . . 

Plenty light still came in at the window, nine 
o'clock and after though it was; the soft flattering 
twilight of summer in high latitudes; whereby, with 
the peat-glow to help it, his face showed somewhat 
younger and a trifle fairer than I was to see it later 
by the light of day. But firelight nor twilight were 
to thank for a bearing that well-nigh abashed me, so 
otherwise had I forecast him ; as in some human sort, 
perhaps, the like of what I saw the day before when 
I came up on deck and heard a man saying, "There's 
Eriskay!" Our course lay well in-shore; a grey 
bleak rock stood over us. No sign of a chapel, nor 
even of a landing-place ; two or three huts huddling 
in the corries at the water's edge. Could that be 
Father Allan's Island? I was wondering then. 
. . . And now it was. Could this be Father Allan? 

For here was a man more than mannerly, a man 
with an air of the Great World itself; barely middle- 
aged (and I had looked to see him old and broken) ; 
flat of back and square of shoulder, quick-moving, 
light-stepping, his head carried high. . . . The head 
of a chieftain, the head for a bonnet and feather. 
. . . Could there be some mistake? What if this 
were not Father Allan after all? . . . All this (and 
more) went buzzing through my head, while I was 
answering his. How were our friends? and, How 



28 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

was I? and bearing as I could my part in the talk 
that ran on lightly, never halting, ranging from 
"Fiona Macleod" and the Celtic Gloom to the house 
we sat in, and the wall he had himself put round it 
and the chapel to keep the pigs out. ... "I couldn't 
stand a pig coming in while I was saying Mass!" 
. . . This must be Father Allan, then, I reassured 
myself. . . . And I thought as I listened, I'd never 
heard speech I liked better (English of the best, with 
a certain richness to the turn of it that was not alto- 
gether English), nor words coming faster from the 
lips of man nor woman; nor seen such a face for 
looks of young and old together. Such a likable 
mingling, too, of manly Highland traits ; pride, sen- 
sitiveness, humour, warm-heartedness and latent 
sternness ; the whole much sweetened by a smile that 
warmed his keen eyes wonderfully. Light-blue, 
quick-glancing, the eyes of a man and a masterful 
one, the least bit puckered at the outer comers as 
a sailor's are, these gave promise of seeing far across 
the water as any man's in Eriskay, — as indeed they 
could. Shaggy brows overhung them, greying like 
his hair (close-cropped after fisherman-fashion, with 
a lock left to show below the cap-brim) and these 
worked about while he spoke or while he listened. 

Greyish-fair, well-weathered was his colour alto- 
gether. His age had already puzzled better guessers 
than myself. 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 29 

Only a few days before at Lochmaddy he had 
asked a man, "How old am I?" 

After a long look and a long thought, the man — 
who was reckoned a judge of such matters — had ven- 
tured, "Anywhere between thirty-five and seventy." 

He was in fact just past his six-and-fortieth birth- 
day, and had been for one-and-twenty years a priest 
on the True Edge of the Great World. 

Not much of his folk-lore had he picked up in the 
first ten of these, he said. ... "I had no time then 
to go to waulkings!" . . . Then came his break- 
down, and thereafter for a while no work at all. 
Then Eriskay; where, in what he called his leisure, 
he could busy himself at the setting-down of sgeulan, 
Ossianic lays, rannan, words of songs, idioms, old- 
words, and all such, — ten stout booksful of them 
altogether. Tunes, for want of skill in music, he 
could do nothing with, though in his anxiety essay- 
ing a sort of Sol Fa of his own. I happened later 
on a specimen of this, amongst some notes he had 
given me to look over. But when I asked him, What 
did his Rs and Ss stand for? he had to confess. He 
had no longer the least idea. 

Meanwhile the young and the able-bodied of the 
Outer Isles were "taking the world for their pillow," 
and their songs along with them. The old were 
passing. The home-keepers, for one reason land 
another, were coming to be less in love with their 
old songs, or at least with their old ways of singing 



30 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

them. Having warmly at heart, then, for some 
years past, the hope that someone equipped for the 
noting-down of songs would some day come to him, 
one night he dreamed a dream. 

He thought he was at a wedding, and as he went 
in, heard someone saying, "Father Domin has come 
to take down the songs of Eriskay." 

He saw in the room, besides another priest he 
knew, a stout dark man, speaking in some sort of a 
brogue that was new to him. Father Allan was 
curious in such matters, so, after a little talk, he 
asked the stranger, Was he not a German'? "Father 
Domin" said shortly, He was not, and did not 
seem pleased. 

So presently Father Allan came out. The priest 
he knew came with him, and said when they were 
outside, "Och, what a horrible mistake you made! 
Father Dornin is a Welshman, but he thinks he 
hasn't a trace of the accent!" 

Here I'm running ahead of my own tale, for it 
was not that night I heard of "Father Dornin." But 
I think it was in Father Allan's mind that maybe I 
was come in "Father Domin's" stead; for while we 
were talking I felt he was taking my measure, nor 
did he seem ill-pleased. ... Or so I was thinking. 
. . . When all at once he said, "I did not think you 
would be like this!" 

Like what, I did not ask, for well I knew what 
like I was that night, with the weight of weariness 



TRUE EDGE OF THE GREAT WORLD 31 

and of low levels on my wits, — dull enough, and 
more than enough. Yet what does that matter, so 
long as we make friends? Time enough, thought I. 
For I could not but mark how more and more his 
tone grew friendly; his look, at first somewhat aloof 
(as any priest's will be in face of woman), now 
dwelling openly on mine; while now and again he 
spoke of work we were to do together. 

The talk taking now a turn towards music, he 
asked. Was I fond of the pipes? 

Now, am I not? I am hearing there are those 
who hold the pipes are not for in-doors. I like them 
at my very elbow, and so said; whereupon Father 
Allan sent out and brought in Seumas, who lives 
hard-by at the chapel-gate. And grand piping he 
gave us that night ! Reels — marches — gatherings — 
strathspeys, — the walls were like to burst. Pushing 
back the chairs, Seumas took the floor's length to 
his treading and his turning; and all the while 
Father Allan's foot kept time, while now and again 
we would hear a loud "Hooch!" out of him. 

There might have been an hour of this. Then 
came supper, then more piping, after which I stood 
up to go back to the nuns. And now for the first 
time silence fell on both of us. 

On the table between us lay some stalks of St. 
Bride's Flower I had plucked along the roadside 
as I came. Father Allan took these up, and in a 
sort of study he began to lay them out, very neatly, 



32 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

side by side on the cloth. . . . What's in his mind'? 
I wondered, with a little chill as I bethought me how 
as yet he had not asked me to his island. . . . When 
he said (nor looking up — still sorting), He was 
going back the next afternoon. 

So I had understood. 

The boat would be coming over again on Wednes- 
day for the post, said he at last. Coming now as it 
were to some term in his thinking (sweeping up 
the stalks and throwing them one side), he straight- 
ened himself as he went on, And would I not be 
coming back with it, weather permitting, for a few 
days? 

I thought this a good plan, and said so, but won- 
dered to myself. Why was it taking him so long to 
make? 

Then we said "Oidhche mhath'^ (Good night)," 
and Seumas the piper stepped down the road with 
me; for what with our talking and our supping and 
our piping, we were come to an hour of dusk and 
lateness. 

't-chya va. 



MASS AT DALIBROG 

Facing Southwest as you near the shore, you'll 
do well to shut your eyes and let your two feet take 
you, such a fetch across the machcdr has the wind 
that brings the mist, so strong is he to whirl abroad 
the fine white sands. At the water's edge he'll scoop 
you up his fistful, to fling it against the priest's win- 
dows, good three miles in-shore. 

Is luath fear na droch car machair Uistibh — Swift 
goes the slattern's husband on the plain of Uist, so 
they say. Truly, a man needs all his buttons there. 
Mid-August though it is, and we well mended, Sis- 
ter Casimer and I, we're not minded to loiter on 
this road that I came down the night before. Now 
flapping aloft like a banner, now streaming out 
behind her goes the nun's black veil: well-happed 
in her black cloak, by times her comfortable stout- 
ness seems to swell out strangely. By times, too, 
comes a dash of cold rain-drops in our faces ; and my 
hat and my head too want sorting sorely when 
we come in at the chapel-door at last. 

No fears but they're aware of that, these five or 
six hundred here already; for all that the women, 
well rolled in their shawls, sit with their bare heads 

33 



34 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

so demurely bowed; for all that the men eye so 
devoutly the caps they hold in their two hands. All 
the benches are filled, saving space for us two at the 
front ; when we come out again, we are to find late- 
comers kneeling on the flag-stones in the porch. 

We are late ourselves, it seems. Directly we have 
knelt, a round-faced little fellow with a taper held 
tight in his two hands comes out to light the altar. 

Slowly, genuflecting with reverent awkwardness, 
his coarse boots clattering on the bare boards, he 
kindles one by one the little orange-yellow flames 
that fling and flicker in the salt breeze from the 
open window, whereon floats in a drift of peat-reek 
from a black house near. 

Within, the air is heavy with that same peat- 
savour, clinging in the woollen shawls and jerseys. 
Scraping the boards as they shift uneasily in their 
cramped sittings and kneelings, they breathe hard, 
sigh loudly, the poor crofter-fisher-folk; while from 
here and there I hear the cough that comes of the 
long chilly nights in the boats, the long wet days 
at the herding. 

Now there's no one on earth less in love with such- 
like sounds than I, nor more put about in his think- 
ing by any sort of sounds at all, — the more's the 
pity. So sharp as my ears are too. I wouldn't say 
that the man who could hear the grass groiv, and 
the wool on the sheep's backs mightn't have been 
forbear of mine. Howbeit, there's a quiet of the 



MASS AT DALIBROG 35 

mind that may befall even such as I (though never 
so little pious), when the God-fearing poor at their 
prayers shall be about him. It may be so that he 
shall kneel amongst them in a peace no more to be 
invaded than is the silence of the woodland to be 
broken by the rustling of a leaf. 

A fortnight past, at this same hour, and I was in 
London at the Catholic Cathedral. 

Not to be setting up for a great church-goer, nor 
yet for a Catholic (being neither the one nor the 
other), let me own this was mainly for the sake of 
hearing Palestrina and Josquin des Pres and Orlando 
di Lassu and the plain-song; that latter so well ren- 
dered here as maybe nowhere else in Christendom. 
Going often then to Mass, both High and Low, 
throughout July, I had happened in the meantime to 
hear the Pelleas of Sarah Bernhardt at the play- 
house, as also some "Speaking to the Psaltery," by 
Florence Farr in her own rooms ; and in the artful 
modulations of these master-chanters had divined, 
as in the plain-song, a music not yet come into its 
full estate; speech as it were first uplifted to die 
treading of a measure. And whether by one or by 
many — choristers or women — so well done as nowise 
to be bettered, I had thought. 

I had yet to travel North and North and North. 

And now the little server, having set the last flame 
leaping, crooks himself in the last of his reverences 



36 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

and tramps loudly out. Then in by another door 
comes Father Allan; a stately man and an upstand- 
ing in his chasuble of faded red; an older man by 
morning light, and greyer, his look aloof and stern. 
Now with a lad at either side of him he kneels at 
the first step of the altar, and uplifts the Prayer 
before the Mass: 

"0 losa! a' Mhic an De na Bed . . ." ^ 
(O Jesus! Son of the God of Life . . •)" 

in a voice that his speech of last night hardly hinted 
— a voice that has surely not its like in London. And 
what sort of a plain-song is this? Here is neither 
the way of Rome nor of Jerusalem. . . . 

When later in his island Father Allan asks me, 
What is it like, this "Speaking to the Psaltery" 
that Yeats is writing of? I answer him. Very like 
his own chanting of the Prayers before the Mass. 
But I like his the better. , . . 

"Why, — I didn't know I was doing it that way!" 
he exclaims, astonished. "I thought I was just say- 
ing it !" 

Wednesday comes, weather permits, and Seumas 
the piper conveys me in his two-wheeled cart to 
Polachar, where Gilleaspuig is in waiting with his 
boat. Two more are for the ferry; an old weather- 
beaten man who sits bowed on his staff; who has 

*0 Yu-sa! a Vic an Jay na B4y-aw. 



MASS AT DALIBROG 37 

no English, but says now and then a harsh guttural 
word to a young woman, hooded in her shawl, who 
smiles as she tells me she has a toothache. We 
embark, a strapping lad at each great oar, pulling 
hard with both his hands until the sail shall fill; a 
thwart for our seat, our feet on the rock-ballast in 
the bottom. Half-an-hour, and Gilleaspuig is hand- 
ing me over the shore-rocks of Father Allan's Island. 

No sign of Father Allan. But by the time I get 
up to the Baile,^ the townland on the links above 
the strand, I see him coming down the side of Rudha 
Ban; a big man in a kilt beside him; a big lad, 
kilted too, and a big lass following after; and soon 
he has me by the hand and is telling me how he has 
just had his breakfast after saying Mass, — it being 
a Lady-Day; and that these are his friends from 
Lochmaddy, who were stopping over Sunday and are 
now going on to Barra with Gilleaspuig. . . . 
Thinks I, so thafs what was on his mind. 

So indeed he tells me later. He was fearing I 
might take offence at being put off until Wednesday. 
But there were himself and his friend, and his 
friend's son and daughter, and me. . . . And he'd 
only two beds. So, — and what could he say? 



STRAVAIGING 



M. M. J=50. Crooning. 



^m 



^^ 



.(■). 



?±3=s^ 



O 



IE 



:^=f^: 



^S: 



'^^ 



^ -j- 



o 



=CEE 



Ef^^BE 



^ 



;'— w- 



^ 



i. Cuir iad mi - se ghlinn f al -aich, Far an 
2. Far au li-on-mh6r ciir gaill-inn, Far an 



i 



^^ 



1st. 



2nd. 



f^^J-J 



aith-nicb i - ad mi. O- 



ain- neamh ci!ir sil. 



"In this far glen they've set me, 
Where nobody knows me ; 
Where many the sowings of storms, 
Where few the sowings of seed." 



-Old Hebridean Lullaby. 



'Phrase here on the repeat 



38 



STRAVAIGING 39 



Three days after, and we on our way towards 
the glen, Father Allan called out to a man delving 
his potato-patch, "What weather will we have? . . . 
We call him 'the prophet,' " he added in my ear. 

"Seven days of sunshine," gave back "the 
prophet" promptly, whereat we laughed. Seven 
days of sunshine nevertheless we had. 

We behove to make the most of them. So one 
day saw us on the one way of the path, the next 
day on the other, another day taking our own way; 
and Father Allan always talking, talking — always 
seeing folk and faces in the clouds. . . . There was 
never a tint in the sea nor the sky but he was mark- 
ing it and naming it; and many the rann and the bit 
of old song that he'd have in his mouth. Half as 
to himself and half to me, one day of these I heard 
him murmuring: 

"Where many the sowings of storms; 
Where few the sowings of seed." 

We were just then come up through one of the 
deep furrows in the face of Rudha Ban. If it was 
the tide that in his by-gone raging delved them. Time 
has tamed him surely. Nowadays he creeps in as it 
were but to bring in the sea-ware for the lazy-beds, 
with always more of the small shells it delights him 
to be fumbling, to be grinding down into these del- 



40 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

icate sands that slip softer than meal through your 
fingers. Take up your handful, and you'll pick out 
lemon-yellow, orange-yellow, yellow-pink, dull olive, 
faded rose, amongst the white scraps and the grey. 
The corries are floored with them, the shore is so 
edged from Rudha Ban to Coilleag d Phrionnsa,^ the 
Prince's Bay where Charlie landed. And here is 
the choice promenade of the sand-plover. No sooner 
will the tide be on the turn than he'll be mincing in 
and out the wash of it; snapping up what he likes 
of its leavings, printing the wet sands endlong with 
his little leaf -shaped claws. . . . 

As the plover the wave, so have we followed on 
the plover, gleaning in his wake. Our pockets bulg- 
ing and our handkerchiefs tied up full of shells, we 
have come up the fore-front, and now stand look- 
ing in upon the land. 

And what is to see but thin barley, thin oats, thin 
potatoes in patches, starveling grass and seamraig^ 
the soil in thin tatters, the bones of the rock sticking 
through? Here and there, to be sure, the small face 
of a lonesome pimpernel or violet looks up, or the 
tormentil's little flat rosette sits singly; here and 
there stands a stalk of wild thyme or hawk-bit or 
moon-wort; of St. Bride's Flower, Our Lady's Bed- 
Straw, or the Arm-pit Plant (St. John's Wort — 
magical everywhere, and here endowed with special 

* C6I-yafc a Fryoons-a. 
' Shilra-rak. 



STRAVAIGING 41 

powers by Columcille ^ himself) ; a harebell, or a 
heart' s-ease, or a gowan. On the braeside in the 
glen, well out of sheep-reach, are a few stout sprays 
of honeysuckle, heather, and the gall, while Prince 
Charlie's Flowers flourish out of reason, nigh to 
where he came ashore. 

But, saving these last, nothing thrives here but 
nettles and dockens. The nettle makes a fine show 
of its sombre green on thatches and at house-ends; 
the docken grows tall and woody as would do to 
drive a cow with, — ^if that were not forbidden? 
But these are good for neither food nor fodder nor 
for firing. 

So that when I hear Father Allan saying as above, 
I ask, Is that Eriskay? 

"Well, — it might be," he answers. "It's in a 
lullaby I took down here ten years ago." 

"Is there a tune to it?" 

"Och, yes!" ... To say Ocli as a Highlander 
does, put you a guttural to your soft high-pitched 
O, and toss your head the least bit with it. . . . 
"Och, yes ! The wife of Ruaraidh has it." 

' C61-um-kil-ya — St. Columba, Abbot of lona (568-97), first mis- 
sionary to the Isles. "After thirteen hundred years you find his 
name everywhere," said Father Allan. "If the people were want- 
ing a boy, and one happens along without being sent for, they 
say, 'Columcille has sent me a boy.' " 

^"Tha e anns a'chrbisde — it is crossed (banned)," and "Cha 
n'eil e drduichte — it is not ordered," are still said of many things, 
though the people cannot tell why. But the docken has an ill 
name anyhow. It is the stick the Devil took to beat his mother 
•with, and if a mother should lift it against her child, he would 
run the seven worlds. 



42 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

For your Highlander more than merely knows 
his song and his sgeul and his Gaelic. He HAS 
them. 

II 

Our first long walk was on a godly errand. Four 
times in the year Father Allan carried the Sacra- 
ment to the infirm and aged, and I had come just 
before his mid-summer rounds. Two mornings 
would make them. We behove to take our porridge 
early, for sake of the old people who would be fast- 
ing till he came. 

To-day we were bound for Ros-an-Fhlos,^ at the 
far side of the island ; past the path's end — or so had 
we supposed when we set forth. But beyond Bun- 
a'-Mhuilinn we found the line staked out eastward, 
with men and boys at work along it. "And thafs 
a good thing!" said Father Allan, quite delighted. 

One winter's night, he said as we stepped on, 
word came from Ros-an-Fhlos that a man was dying 
there. So at once he set back with the messenger, 
each lighting himself with the "torch of the 
Hebrides," — two burning peats stuck faces together 
on a stick; a torch that is namely for keeping alight 
in a wind that would snuff any lantern. 

But now, what with the pelting of the rain, and 
the gusts that come more and more furiously the 
more they near the Minch, at last they are stumbling 

' Ros-Nish. 



STRAVAIGING 43 

about in pitch darkness, at a dead loss where to find 
the house. 

"Here it is, I think," calls out the man from a 
little distance. "Here it is, — ^but I can't find the 
door!" 

Feeling his way, Father Allan comes up with 
him, and fingers the walls for himself. "You might 
look to the end of the world for a door in it," he 
says at length; "it's just nothing at all but a peat- 
stack." 

Striking out thence to another airt, they next 
have the good luck to stop themselves, just in time, 
on the edge of a boulder some thirty feet high; one 
of those overhanging the hollow wherein lie the half- 
dozen black houses of Ros-ari-FMos. 

And how could a man with his five wits about 
him mistake his neighbour's peat-stack for his house ? 

Any man might almost do the like in daylight. 
These houses are here since the Putting-away of the 
People. 

How Clanranald (the chief) danced at Almack's 
with Lady Jersey, and behove to sell his lands to 
pay the piper; how a stranger turned them into sheep- 
walks; and after what manner the people were put 
off them, you may read in some part in the Blue 
Books; or again may happen on the tale, as I did, 
in course of a stravaiging. 

I mind one day in Uist a woman of my own age 
or thereby, stepping up behind me on the machair- 



44 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

road bare-footed; who made as if to pass, but gave 
me half-a-smile as she came by. So I told her, "La 
math ^ (Fine day) !" and she told me back, "La 
math gu dearraibh ^ (Fine day indeed) !" and then, 
as we fell into step, "It iss a ferry fine weather." 

It was raining a bit, I remember. So, each having 
honoured the other's native tongue, we fared along 
together, talking in the English, to where a path 
led aside to her black house. Here we stood for a 
space, and presently she asked. When wass I going 
back to America? 

Maybe sooner and maybe later, I replied — and 
not for dourness, but for being one who likes not to 
be seeing far ahead. 

She looked away across the machair for a space, 
but not as one who saw it. Then, — ^very gently, as 
Islef oik speak mostly, — she said : 

"My uncle went to America. He wass tied." 

"Why don't you ask more questions?" the one 
who is here no longer use to say to me. Well, maybe 
for the reason that I'm not so fond myself of answer- 
ing. Maybe, again, for want of quickness at the 
up-take : I can always think up plenty of questions, 
once the time is by for putting them. Howbeit, — 
whether that poor crofter, tied up like a sheep for 
the market and shipped aboard a vessel where the 
plague had been, ever footed land again; or whether, 

^La ma — the a short. 
' La m^ ku jerr-oo. 



STRAVAIGING 45 

having lived to reach the Hudson Bay Country in 
the winter, he took root or perished there of his 
untimely planting, — that I cannot say. Nor whether 
so, his fortunes had been harder than were theirs 
who stayed behind, huddled onto the bog like the 
sheep in a fank. 

In Eriskay then were "one Cameron, one Fergu- 
son, and one Macdonald, with their families, and 
maybe a few shepherds and herds." ^ In upon them, 
on waste land of the poorest, certain of the Uist 
crofters dispossessed were let to settle, until what 
time better land and more of it should be given them. 
... Or so, at least, they hoped, and thought turf 
walls would do them meanwhile. In that same 
hope, those same walls have been patched, these 
fifty years and more, with sods and stones. 

It was to one of these, wherein a son or grandson 
of a one-time Uist crofter was in act to die, that 
Father Allan groped his way that night through 
wind and winter-storm. 

To-day is of another sort. To-day, "He who 
was for killing his mother would be for putting 
life into her again," as the Eriskay old-word 
has it. By leave of the wind, then, as in honour 
of his errand. Father Allan looks more the priest 
than in his ordinary. "Eriskay is no place for 
hats," he had warned me at Dalibrog, and that the 
sun and spindrift find a way to fade the fastest of 

'Report of the Crofter Commission — 1886. 



46 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

blacks. Most days, then, he goes about like the 
fishermen in dark-blue serge, with a deer-stalker cap 
and a belted jacket, his trousers tucked into the tops 
of stout boots, and only the cut of his collar to 
show him in orders. But to-day a black coat covers 
him and a black hat too, which latter he takes care 
to pull well down as we set out; since, for all the 
sun's shining, the wind seems nowise minded we 
should be forgetting him. And indeed, where the 
path climbs a boulder to spare a barley-patch, he 
fetches me such a buffet as makes me glad to catch 
at Father Allan's hand — always ready, as though 
he were used to the squiring of women. 

The wind may cuff us now and then, I say, yet 
less as it were for ill-will than for wantonness. 
Through the haze, Uist hills show wine-stained, 
over-laid with colours fair as New Jerusalem's. In 
the sand-shoals to Westward, the clear beryl-green 
is blotched with violet where the beds of weed and 
tangle under-lie. And had I ever seen the like of 
that? asks Father Allan, pointing to the Kyles, where 
along the shallows blues and greens are streaked 
with violet and rose. Young and old are out of 
doors; men and boys at the path-making, backing 
bags of earth (for your Islesman who makes nothing 
of a boll of meal on a steep brae will never wheel a 
barrow if he can help himself), men delving, and 
men at their house-ends mending nets; women 
spreading out the sea-grass on the rocks, to dry in 



STRAVAIGING 47 

the sun for their bedding, or washing sarks and socks 
in wee tubs of salt water; old women looking out at 
their doorways, to say nothing of the women and 
children that are always at the herding, wet or dry. 

Yes, it's all very well to be looking out of win- 
dow at the rain-flaw passing over, at such a slant 
that it's no trouble keeping dry behind a dyke, or 
even a little down the lee-side of the rock. But 
how about that young lass with a switch sticking 
out from under her shawl, huddled on a boulder 
in the sweep of it*? For the one who drops her 
tether is like to find what's at the other end of it 
in a potato-patch when she gets back. 

Well, — ^no fears of a wetting this one day. "La 
math!" "La math gu dearraibh!" sound from every 
side, with give-and-take to follow of the liveliest, — 
and the priest getting the better of it most times, to 
judge by the roars that come after us. . . . "And 
there's more Celtic Gloom for you !" says he. 

Take only so much of the Gaelic with you as shall 
serve to pass the time of day, and I'll warrant you'll 
not lack for greeting by the way in Jnnse-Gaill. 
Belike some cailleach, taking you for "English," 
shall scowl on you out of her smoky doorway. But 
give her "La math!" and you'll get back "La math 
gu dearraibh!" and what-not more, her wrinkles 
wreathed into a perfect pattern of good-will. Nor 
is it otherwise within the house, however little meal 
be in the pot. A pretty thing to read about, the 



48 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Celtic Gloom, yet one well wanted in the lives of 
Islesmen surely. And I much mistrust those latter- 
day Maelduinns who think to find it there — unless 
amongst Free Kirkers. 

I remember Father Allan telling me how he was 
calling out one wet day on the machair-road in Uist 
to an elder in the Kirk, 

"It's a nasty day this !" 

"It's as the Lord sends," said the other sourly. 

"Well, — it's not His best, then!" laughed back 
Father Allan. 

Here in Eriskay are none but his own people. 
Cheerily, then, and if at no great pace, yet with little 
delay, — Father Allan being not the man to linger for 
song nor sgeul nor sight whilst his old people wait 
on him fasting, — we come through the townlands 
up and down ; past the Hollow of the Noises, where 
no houses are, but where you'll be hearing the sounds 
of the life that's to be there, and at last reach Ros- 
an-FMos in its own hollow. 

We are stooping to enter the first doorway when 
a sound of chanting halts us. 

Where we are, then, we stand, and Father Allan 
bares his head, while I look past his shoulder into 
a dark chamber of some depth, its floor freshly 
strewn with white sand. A little to left of the 
middle, two or three peats send up a slender stream 
of reek. Coiling and thinning as it rises, it drifts 
and hangs among the sooty rafters overhead, settles 



STRAVAIGING 49 

down in the comers thick and brown. Daylight 
from a little window to the North strikes out a band 
of cloudy blue across it, just above the head of a 
young dark-haired woman who kneels facing us, her 
baby in her arms. Two little girls cling one at either 
side; and where these were getting eyes blue as the 
Coolins in clear weather, and fringed like the peat- 
pools in Uist, it's easy seeing. 

Since early morning they were on the watch, 
that the priest might find them kneeling thus and 
chanting, "I am not worthy, O Lord! that Thou 
shouldst enter here." 

Father Allan goes ben, where a ccdlleach lies bed- 
fast; the young woman follows with the children at 
her heels, their faces buried in her skirts for bash- 
fulness; and I, well content, seat myself by the fire 
on the floor, where two little sleepy cats sit nodding, 
and a pot hangs bubbling from the roof. 

And in the quiet and the peace of the poor hab- 
itation, it comes over me that something very like 
to this meant shelter, warming, and nearness of 
heart' s-dearest to my own forbears in the Highlands 
long ago. 

And that whoso should be getting for himself the 
like in these days, whether in hall or black house, 
might be calling himself a lucky one. 



50 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

in 

The outer wall of a black house is piled up as 
rough as a dry-dyke, with neither hewing to the 
stones nor mortar to the cracks of it, some three or 
four feet high. Three feet within it is another wall, 
and a filling of sand or turves between. The roof 
has a frame of driftwood cabars, sloping steeply to 
the ridge-pole; these are overlaid with turves, and 
these again with heather and bracken and bent- 
grass, which an Eriskay crofter must pull (without 
leave) on other islands than his own. 

A roof, that to wear a man well, so he mend it in 
autumn ("It's as old as myself," you'll hear a man 
of thirty say) ; bound down as it is against the rug- 
ging and riving of the winds with a net of heather- 
ropes, and each rope-end weighted with a stone. 

It is not right to put a window to the West, for 
on that side the Sluagh pass by night, and might 
throw darts within. The floor is of clay, laid by a 
dance on the first night the house is lived in, and 
this is strewn with sand, which a careful bean-an- 
tighe will sweep out now and then. A quiet house 
it keeps. The first time ever she heard boots on bare 
boards was at the school, a Benbecula woman told 
me. . . . "And I thought it was just horrible!" 
. . . Nor ever until then, the slamming of a door, 
— her father's standing back most times against the 
wall. And thereout must no water be thrown after 



STRAVAIGING 51 

nightfall, because of the dead who come to warm 
themselves there in the smoke. 

Night and day, then, the hens have the liberties 
of the black house. I mind one pecking at my shoes 
as I knelt on the floor amidst the family, one day 
that I made Father Allan's rounds with him. He 
kept an eye on them, he said, ever since one hopped 
up behind his back onto a table he had spread for 
the Sacrament. When he turned round, the hen 
was sipping at the Holy Water. Again, as he knelt 
to say prayers by the side of a man dying, a hen 
perched on the bed's head started in to crow. "I 
waited, and when the bird was still, I started in 
again, — ^but only to inspire it to a fresh eflFort. 
When all was quiet at last, I began once more . . . 
and down came a big blob of soot on my favourite 
breviary I" 

This last was the work of the peat-fire, that burns 
the year round on the floor of the black house. At 
bed-time the bean-an-tighe smoors it, with one of 
those incantations that, up to some thirty years 
past, used to hallow each doing, however homely, of 
the Hebridean's day. So, in the ashes, it outlasts 
the night, year out and in. Its reek, hanging long 
in the cabars before it takes leave by the smoke-hole, 
covers them and the chain that swings the pot 
(which the children are not allowed to touch, it 
having to do with The One-we-won' t-mentiori) with 
a black crust that glistens in the firelight and looks 



52 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

wet, and drops in a big blob now and then — this last 
only in September. The year round it keeps the 
women busy scrubbing at whatever deals go to the 
making and the plenishing of a black house: the 
partition between the two rooms of it, and the 
settle against the partition; the driftwood planks 
raised on rocks along the wall for other and less 
honourable seating; some three-legged stools — ^maybe 
a kitchen chair or two; a chest or two, and maybe 
a few shelves, tricked out with cut paper, for the 
cups and plates ; a table, or maybe none, and in the 
inner room the bunks spread with dried sea-grass 
under home-spun blankets. Short of smoking these 
and the faces of the women, the good peat-reek does 
no harm at all, — ^how should it, to those who were 
drawing it in with their very first breath? 

The blackness of the house, then, is within, unless 
about the smoke-hole in the thatch. Without, the 
walls and thatch alike are grey, the russet patch the 
roof gets before the gales set in soon weathering 
like the rest. 

Mind your head at the lintel! But once you're 
within, you'll be thinking you never were snugger: 

Come winter, come summer, the very first thing 
that you'll see is the fire on the floor: 

The good fire that's down at your feet, the better 
so to warm them : 

The friendly one, that sits not away in the wall 
with itself, but out where the neighbours can all get 



STRAVAIGING 53 

round it, and look each other in the face across it, 
with no such coldness at the back as plagues you in 
your house with a chimney. 

Into such a house, without a care for how he may 
be dripping, a man may be coming straight up from 
the boats. 

What is like to it for sociability — the camp-fire in 
the woods? 

Well, — I'll allow that makes more of a blaze. 
But there you've the wind at your back. . . . 

Not so in the black house. So thick a shell it has, 
and such a good grip of the ground, that whatever 
the night be out-by, indoors comes little rumour of it. 

The wildest of rompings overhead, the roughest 
of snatchings at the thatch send never a shake nor a 
shout through the black house. 

IV 

In the like, in this very same isle. Royal Charlie 
spent his first night in the kingdom of his fathers; 
sat all night long by the fire on the floor, that one 
of his small company, who was ailing, might take 
such comfort as he could a-bed. And many another 
night or ever he was out of that same kingdom, I 
make no doubt he had been glad of such a like roof 
to his head, a like fire to his feet. 

Now this is news to Scotsmen, — or was, ten years 
ago. "Are you sure you don't mean Arisaig?" one 
asked me then. I bade him go read his "Tales of a 



54 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Grandfather," — ^not that Sir Walter has so much to 
say about it either. No song celebrates it, so far as 
I know songs, nor any print. Wherever you look, 
you'll see the Prince "Raising the Royal Standard at 
Glenfinnan," or "Entering Edinburgh," or, "Bid- 
ding Farewell to Flora Macdonald." But, "Land- 
ing on Eriskay?" Never. 

Yet that was occasion to furnish forth stuff for 
songs and pictures too, and the scene as pretty as 
you like. An eagle, as it happened, hanging then 
aloft above a place of loveliness — to those that like 
the wild and lonesome ; a beach of white sand under 
shore-clifFs ; the sea, set with misty mountain-isles, 
before; a row-boat stayed down by the rocks, and 
the Prince, young and lithe, leaping shorewards. . . . 

But just here he spoiled the picture, and — as 
Highlanders will have it — his luck too. For it takes 
an Islander to keep his footing amongst wrack and 
tangles. So the Prince, for his haste, entered into 
his kingdom head-foremost. 

Take to right from where you come ashore at 
Rudha Ban, follow round the strand a mile, and 
there, on a knoll amongst nettles, you shall see some 
stones of the black house where the Adventurer, 
half-choked with peat-reek, passed the night; and 
hard-by (so you come in mid-summer) on another 
knoll, the small green leaves and pinkish lilac 
trumpets of Prince Charlie's Flowers. 

"That'll be a remembrance of me," they say he 



STRAVAIGING 55 

said; and sowed with a light heart his handful of 
seeds in the sands of this bleak place; nor dreamed 
their increase would outlast his luck and his good 
name, and the walls of the black house as well. 



Folk-song, folk-lore, are shy. Go tramping and 
seeking, and your quarry shall bide in its hole. 
Best lean your back against a tree and make as if to 
take no notice. So you'll see the thing you sought 
come nigh you. 

The gray-eyed girl that kept Father Allan's house 
for him was always thinking on what next she could 
be giving me, always searching her brains for some- 
what I might "mark down." Yet only for going to 
the Prince's Bay with her, I had never known — ^nor 
Father Allan either — that the children have songs 
of their own in Eriskay. 

It was this way: 

We — the girl and I — had threaded the crofts 
where the women, bent double, were reaping with 
hooks; had scrambled down to the strand, encum- 
bered with rocks and boulders that are ruddy here, 
and under water at high tide. This being now just 
past the turn, we picked our way across them, drip- 
ping as they were, and thronged with the bronze 
wrack, blobbed with yellow at this season; with sea- 
grass, "the long-haired one"; with tawny-edged 
"ruffles," dark-red duileasg, and what-not else that 



56 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



grows or harbours in such quarters. Tangles, long 
as coach-whips, lay here too — black lithe stems that 
are thick as your wrist at the root-end, and taper to 
the other, where a tassel hangs, of leathery brown 
leaves. 

Picking up one of these, the girl said, "Look you I 
When we were children, my mother used to get this 
in the spring-time and roast it in the fire. Then we 
would bite a piece out here and throw it in the fire. 
Then we would rub it in our two hands and say 
(here she began rubbing her two palms together 
deasal ^ — sunwise. That is to say, to the right, fac- 
ing South. To do anything the other way is un- 
lucky) : 

M. M, J=92. In a drawling nasal tone — don't try to sing it ! 






i^ 



-3, 



¥=-^-* 



N IS JS H 



-•- -•- 



Li-ath-ag beag mhin, ' Thug an -t - i m a Eir - inn, 



i 



-&,-^— N 



^= 



-^s^=p 



-^--^^^^— — -t- 

Li-ath-ag beag bh^n, 'Thug au ciis a Al [a] ba, 



t 



fc 



B14s na ghu - ail air chviid 



gobh - a, 



w 



zfcz5= 



rit. 



Bl^s iia meal - a air mo chuid fhin. 
* Jay-sal. 



STRAVAIGING 57 

Little smooth tangle, 

Took the butter from Eirinn; 

Little white tangle, 

Took the cheese from Albainn; 

Taste of coal on the smith's share; 

Taste of honey on my own share." 

"And then we would get it to eat. But we al- 
ways had to say the rhymes first." 

Now, to come on such a thing as this, it was as 
though I climbed the thatch of my own great-great- 
great-great-great-grandmother's black house, and 
looked down through the smoke-hole on her child- 
hood. . . . "You must give me that !" said I. 

"You'll get it when Father Allan comes back," 
said she. At which time she gave me too the 

ORAM NA SMEO RAICH 

(Song of the Mavis) 

Start at about M. M. J=152, and vary the time with the content. 



^^- 



P 



-*!— V- 



"Mhic 'ill-e Mhoir-emhic! Mhic 'ill-e Mhoir-e mhic! Troth'd 



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dhach'! Troth'd dhach'! Gud'dhinn-eir,Gud'dhinn-eir!" "De'n 

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dinn-eir, de'ndinn-eir?" " Ar- ain cru-aidh cuilc, ar-ain 

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coirc, 



Ar - ain cru - aidh cuilc, ar - ain 



58 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



^ 



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=g=^ 



^ 



coirc! 



Bi clis, 



bi clis, 



bi clis ! 



The Mother-mavis: 



The Little One: 
The Mother-mavis : 



As well as the 



"Son of the Servant of Mary, 

Come home, come home, 

To dinner, to dinner!" 
"What dinner, what dinner?" 
"Hard reed-bread and oat-bread, 

Hard reed-bread and oat-bread,— 

Be quick — be quick — be quick!" 



LUCHAG 'US CAT 
(Mouse and Cat) 
In a small and mewing voice: 



|S 



rtzrN 



^ 



r^^-fi 



"Fa la bhan iu 



ii- 



i 



s 



Fa la bhan iii 



an," OS 



au c^t. 



Thuirt a' luchag 's i's an toll, 

"Ach de'n fonn a th'ort, a' chait?" 

"Cairdeas, commun, is gaol! 
Faodaidh thusa tighinn a machl" 

"Mairbh thu mo phiuthair an de, 
Fhuair mi-fein air eiginn as: 

'S eolach mi air dubhan chrbm 
A fas am bonn do chas, a' chait!" 

Said the mouse, and she in the hole, 
"What's the tune with you, O cat?" 



STRAVAIGING 



59 



"Friendship, fellowship, and love! 
Please to come you out of that!" 

"You killed my sister yesterday; 
Scarce myself got out of that: 
Knowledge have I of the claws 
Growing on your soles, O cat !" 

With the 

ORAN NA-H-UISEIG 

(Song of the Lark) 

M, M. J =112. In a loud scolding tone, changing to plaintive- 
ness on "biodaeh." 



i 



lE^ 



S3 



/ / J ^- 



f 



Ma'seduinn-e beag thu, Cuir-idh mi le creag thu; 



g Lj^UM=J=JUJ-J^JU^=i^ 



Ma 'seduinn-e mdr thu, Bog-aidhmi'san Idn thu; 



i 






=^^^=jq5 



^ 



Pocc rit. ■mf. 
Ma 's e duinn-e beag blod-ach, Biod-ach, brdn - ach, Gu'n 



X 



^ 



^ 



iS 



^ 






gleidheadh Di - a dha d'athair 's dha mbath-air fhin thu. 

The lark is seeing boys coming to harry the nest. 
She sings: 

"If a little man you be, 
I'll put you to the crag; 
If a big man you be, 



6o 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



I'll dip you in the dub ; 

If you be a poor wee, wee fellow. 

May God keep you for your own father and mother!" 

And again: 

AN CU BAN 
(The White Dog) 
M. M. J=84. In a small whining voice. 



^5=3= 



:S^ 



^^^^^:E^^. 



F^=s 



mf 



'Di - an do - an," os an ci bin; "Nach 



m 



^ 



^^^^ 



mm-ig 



a bha sinn," os au cii bin; 



SS^ 



^= 



~w- 
ci 



'Di 



do - an," OS an 



bin. 



"Air cut garaidh," 

Os an cii ban, 
"Cagnadh cnamhan," 

Os an CU ban. 

"Were we not often," 

Quoth the white dog, 
"At the back of the wall, 

A-crunching of bones ? 
Di-an-do-an," 

Quoth the white dog. 

"Di" should be rendered "Tea," which sound can- 
not be exactly transliterated by the Gaelic. 

Occasionally in its place the white dog must give 



STRAVAIGING 6i 

a growl — " 'Dirrrrrrrrrrrrrr — an-do-an,' os an cii 
ban!" 

"When should this come in?" I asked. 

"Och — ^just anywhere you please !" 

VI 

It's a quaint thought, that when the waters of 
the world were running higher than to-day round 
Innse-Gaill, the sea-beasts were sunning themselves 
at low-tide on the tops of Beann Sgrithean and 
Beann Stac. Let those who know, be saying how 
long since that might have been ; how long since the 
tide was done ebbing and flowing between the two, 
where now the East wind and the West are free 
to enter. 

It's not far thejr've to go — ^just the mouth of a 
mile — from the one end to the other of the glen. 
Yet you feel yourself far inland there for its strait- 
ness, and the twist to it mid-way that shuts off the 
sight of the sea. Not to waste the good land in the 
floor of it, the houses are set up along the brae. 

In one of these are a cailleach and her daughter, 
kin to the grey-eyed girl. Would I like to be go- 
ing there with her one day? 

Where the path tops the shoulder of Beann 
Sgrithean, it is reported of the Fuadh that he all but 
got the better of a man. One at grips in the dark 
with the winds that search the glen in winter-time 



62 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

needs be no Islesman to mistrust that hands are on 
him. To-day the wind is off the Minch: as we 
climb the first stretch, with the sun over-warm on 
our backs, there is not that abroad that would stir 
the fringes of the girl's little head-shawl : yet round 
the turn we meet what whips them in her face and 
sets our shoulders up. I'm glad of pockets I can 
thrust my hands into as we hurry down, then up 
again to where another girl stands in her doorway 
looking out for us, having set a lad to herd for her 
the while. The "long girl" Father Allan calls her, 
and with reason, for one day when she was by him I 
have seen her all but tall as he. Her face, too, is 
weather-beaten as his own, for most times she is out 
with her two cows, and not a peat bums on her floor 
but she has backed from Beann Stac's top and across 
the glen. Yet a gentle creature, nowise man-like, 
the long girl, for all her inches; with the Island 
girls' friendly grey eyes, neither bold nor bashful. 

Islanders who graze two cows are reckoned well- 
to-do. It would not be for dearth, then, that the 
cazlleach, so frail as she is, sits backed to the parti- 
tion on no more honourable a seating than a three- 
legged stool. It's worth a winter's walk to see, this 
poor old ailing woman sitting comfortless by choice, 
so straight and seemly in her short-gown, drugget 
petticoat and coarse shoes; so ennobled by what 
might have broken her, in a countenance already 
nobly cast. Waxen-white and unsmiling, — and 



STRAVAIGING 63 

that last is rare amongst the old folk even in these 
Isles, — she eyes me gravely, not unkindly, as we 
enter. Having not a word of the English, she mere- 
ly makes a little inclination of the head, as she 
points me to another stool. 

What is hotter than fire? The face of an hos- 
pitable man, when strangers come, and there is 
nought to offer him. You shall find this amongst 
"Fionn's ^ Questions," made up in the Highlands 
fourteen hundred years ago. And the answer would 
do the Highlander or Islander to-day. We have sat 
but a minute or two, and the long girl is going ben 
to where she keeps her milk-pans; and when she 
comes out with a glassful for each of us, every white 
tooth in her head is showing. For though it's few 
they are, and hard to come by nowadays, the com- 
forts of the black house, the will to be sharing them 
is good as ever. 

As we drink, the girls gossip and giggle (the grey- 
eyed one's a tease, and is telling of a trick she's 
played on one of the lads), while the cailleach, her 
gaz^ fixed on the smouldering peats, seems sunk in 
a musing neither glad nor sorry. For myself, some- 
thing drowsy, I'm well pleased to sit as still as she; 
my mind is drifting with the peat-reek as it wavers 
up between us, floats slowly towards the open win- 
dow at my back. When after a little impelled to 
look up, I find her quietly regarding me. . . . 

* Fyoon. 



64 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Remote, in-seeing, calm, her gaze meets mine un- 
moved . . . until at last I look away. . . . Then, 
for the first time, she speaks — a few words in the 
Gaelic to the girls. They look at me, smiling, and 
the grey-eyed one with satisfaction. 

"What does she say"?" 

"She says, one would like to see you coming into 
her house." 

The milk now drunk down and the gossip con- 
cluded, we stand up to go. And now the cailleach 
rises likewise, takes me by the hand, and looking at 
me earnestly, says very gravely in the Gaelic some- 
thing long and rhythmic. . . . 

And why didn't I ask her to repeat it? — why 
didn't I call on the long girl and the other? — ^bodi 
outside the door by now, and once more at their gig- 
gling. ... So well as I knew, too, that in Father 
Allan's Island, where the taste of honey's on the 
plainest speech, the old folk are like at a parting to 
be strangely well inspired. . . . 

So that when we were on the path homeward, and 
saying the one to the other, What a pity Father 
Allan wasn't with us! it wasn't so much of the glass 
of milk he missed that I was thinking (though he 
liked it well and got it seldom). It was rather. 
He'd not have come away without that last word of 
the cailleach in his head. A bittie, that, more to his 
liking than glasses of milk or of wine. 



STRAVAIGING 65 

VII 

To please Father Allan, as also to further my er- 
rand, I had planned to travel to his island as be- 
comes a minstrel, harp and all. 

Three hundred years before I had hardly been so 
bold. Three hundred years before it had but lately 
been "inactit of commoun consent, that na vaga- 
bdund baird nor profest pleisant pertending libertie 
to baird or flattir, be ressavit within the boundis of 
the said Yllis, be ony of the saidis speciall barronis 
and gentilmen, or ony utheris inhabitantis thairof, 
or be intertainet be thame or ony of thame in ony 
sort : bot, incais ony vagabound bairdis, juglouris, or 
such lyke be apprehendit be thame or ony of thame, 
he to be tane and put in suir fe[n]sement and keip- 
ing in the stokis, and thairefter to be debarrit furth 
of the cuntrey with all guidlie expeditioun." ^ 

Thanks to which, one might stravaig from Bar- 
ra Head to Butt of Lewis nowadays in those same 
"Yllis," nor find any more of the harp than the name 
of it, still lingering in old-words such as, 

"Plobair an-t-aona phuirt, 
'S clarsair an-t-seana phuirt; 
Piper of the one tune, 
And harper of the old tune;" 

or, 

"Deanadh Eoghann clairseachan, 
Na'n cuireadh cebl annt; 
^ Statutes of Icolmkill, 1610. 



66 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Eoghann would be making harps, 
Not putting music into them." ^ 

But the black nor the colour of it shall you see 
in Innse-Gaill to-day. . . . "Will it make more 
noise than the pipes?" asked Seumas the piper of 
me, — somewhat anxiously, I thought. 

I reassured him. 

Silence, and we jogging in the two- wheeled cart. 
We were perched on the foot-board, our feet on the 
shafts; Seumas pulling at his little clay-pipe and 
plainly thinking hard, . . . Then, 

"And will you blow it?" 

For all I knew then, the harp was still where I 
had seen it last — in Edinburgh, nor did I set eyes 
on it again for other seven days or so. It was this 
way: however lightly I myself may fare, the harp 
goes commonly in a box whereat the London cabby 
shakes his head — ^measuring as it does 45 x 25 x 17, 
and weighing, what with other matters I may pack 
within it, anywhere from 150 to 200 lbs. This 
being at its heaviest when I set out, I had the un- 
happy thought to send it by goods-train on to Oban ; 
whereby I not only lost track of it altogether for a 
fortnight, but handed out first and last, in wires 
"reply paid," something like a pound. So much for 
thrift. But at last, when I had been for a week in 
Eriskay, up came Gilleaspuig one fine morning to 
say that the box was at Lochboisdale, and that he 

^ Carmina Gadelka, notes. 



STRAVAIGING 67 

had ordered it sent over. . . . "That man has 
tonuisg!" ^ declared Father Allan; as who should 
say, common-sense (which "Fiona Macleod" says the 
Gaelic has no single word for). ... So the very 
next day a herring-boat brought it through the Kyles 
and into harbour. 

With my heart in my mouth, I saw it lowered 
into a row-boat, borne ashore over rocks slippery 
with wrack as those that threw Prince Charlie, and 
backed up Rudha Ban; all this not unobserved, as 
may be guessed, by Father Allan's people. What a 
box! and what, for any's sake, was in it? Some- 
thing like the pipes, no doubt, but raised to powers 
unknown. ... "I thought I would be hearing it 
up on Beann Side," one of the men told Father Al- 
lan afterwards. 

Thereupon, and until what time I have to tell, the 
people of four townlands set aside all care, so far 
as might be, the better to listen for the first blast 
from Rudha Ban. 

All unawares, I harped and sang indoors that day 
and night to Father Allan and the grey-eyed girl. 
The windows being closed, nobody without was the 
wiser. Next morning again we were at it, and again 
no one heard anything at all. Still again in the aft- 
ernoon. . . . When suddenly from out the rocks on 
the fore-front of Rudha Ban sounds the very note 
they wait for — a long-drawn, sonorous blast. . . . 

*T6n-ushk. 



68 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"That's it !" says everyone. "That'll be the tun- 
ing of it. She will have been bringing it out and we 
not seeing. . . ." 

So every herd-girl drops her tether : men mending 
nets down on the shore below (so to be handy-by) 
come scrambling up. But all again is still. . . . 

At length one of them ventures round the rocks. 
. . . And there stands a big red calf. 

VIII 

And so, when after many years the clarsach * came 
unto its own, its own received it not. So at least for 
a time and in a measure. For a time, despite good 
manners, I could not but feel the people disappointed 
(after such high hopes) to hear its voice so soft. 
But before I came away, I heard an old man saying, 
"A man may hear many things before the tying of 
the thumbs,^ and I thank God I have lived to 
hear the clarsach." 

"You'll never be able to keep a string on it here," 
Father Allan had said despondently before it came. 
Yet though the iron braces of its box went red with 
rust; though I played it so often out before the door, 
to the people standing round, that Father Allan gave 
the rock I used to sit on the name of Creag na 
Chlarsaich — the Rock of the Harp; though I had it 

' Clar-such — the first syllable very long, and the ch gut- 
tural. 

'The custom, when the dead are straiked. 



STRAVAIGING 69 

in black houses at ceilidh before a peat-fire of a fer- 
vour to melt the pins of it, and out on Rudha Ban 
to let the wind finger the strings, — for all that, in all 
that time four strings were all I broke. And how 
would it be sounding on the rocks down by the 
water? Father Allan wondered. We tried that out 
the first fine day. 

The sun was already westering, and a great wind 
blowing out of the North, but we came into still 
weather as we climbed down the southerly side of 
the scarp. Under its cover, the inland sea stretched 
flat and sleek below, flashing full in our faces, so 
that we might hardly bear to look towards Fuday, 
where the boats lay off-shore at the flounder-fishing, 
with their brown sails hanging limp. 

No weeds are on the shore-rocks to the South — 
because The Flood came that way. Where we 
would, then, we seated ourselves ; and so soon as the 
harp sounded over the water, up came the anchors, 
and out came the oars. Slipping up one-by-one 
through the dazzle with never a splash, to this side 
and that they lay- to (not in face of us, for manners' 
sake) as near as rocks and shoals would give them 
leave ; as their own forbears might have stayed, long 
time before, in that same reach, to listen to the 
Maighdinn-Mhara. And for all I knew, she might 
herself be listening; she alone, amongst the "bairdis" 
of Innse-Gaill, surviving for good reason. For how 
to put a mermaid in the "stokis"? 



70 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND. 

Howbeit, we saw nothing of her, and by-and-by 
addressed ourselves to climb the brae. 

But not yet are we done with our music, for the 
wind is still abroad; and whenever we breast the 
headland he coaxes the strings so that these begin 
sighing and singing as we fare to cover of the chapel- 
wall. And who's here but Peigi Mhor^ up from 
the Bazle, doing a bit of her washing in a wee tub 
and keeping her eye on the cow, while engaged in a 
gossip with the grey-eyed girl, who has her knitting 
of grey wool for Father Allan's wear. So again I 
tune and sing — this time their favourite "Twa 
Sisters." And wherever a kyloe is grazing, far or 
near along the slopes or in the hollows, the head of 
a herd-lad or herd-lass is bobbing up behind a rock; 
while in every doorway of the Bmle down below I 
see a woman standing. Nor am I in doubt of my 
favour; for when I come to, 

"And there they found a drowned woman," 
I can see for myself that Peigi Mhor is (as the grey- 
eyed girl says afterwards) "near cryin'." 

Well, — I slept in my bed that same night. But 
suppose it had been in the reign, not of Edward the 
Seventh, but of His Majesty's great-great-great- 
great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. 

Most likely I had sat it out in the "stokis." 

Next day sees the start of what one of the men 
calls a ferry consecutive -weather, which keeps us in- 
doors for a while. 

* Peggy Vore. 



RUDHA BAN 

To say it is only the nettles and dockens and 
Prince Charlie's Flowers that thrive in Father Al- 
lan's Island, is to slight the crotal,^ that whitens die 
stones and scarps of Rudha Ban, and yields a fine 
dye, yellowish-brown, for the woolens. But you'll 
never see crotal-dytd woolens in the boats, for what 
comes from the rocks will go back to the rocks. 

When the nights are at the longest, and the North- 
ern Lights leaping the highest on Uist hills, the 
crotal oozes an ill-looking juice whereby at morning 
light the rocks are seen as though bloody-wet. Fuil- 
nan-t-Sluagh ^ — the Blood of the Host, the people 
call it, and thereby they hang this tale : 

"When the rebellious angels were being cast out 
from Heaven, Michael gave word to shut the gates 
of Heaven and Hell. Those who were in the pit 
already, stayed there; those who had reached the 
earth became the fairies, and those who fell among 
the rocks, the echo. Those who were in the air are 
there and fighting still." 

Look to North in the night-time and you'll see 
them, and their blood on the stones in the morning. 

' Crottle. 

'Fo6-il nan T16-og. 

71 



72 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

In shape like a boat turned turtle, stem to land 
and prow to sea, Rudha Ban thrusts well to West, 
flanking the Kyles; a rock of height, whence on every 
side one may look down. Yet not for that does the 
spindrift spare the house on top, nor the flying 
sand fall short of it, nor the Southwest wind for- 
bear to fling a dash of salt into the priest's rain-bar- 
rel, to spoil his tea for him; while all day and all 
night, with the sand in his fist, he grinds at the walls' 
joints and the window-panes. 

No boughs has he to shake in Father Allan's 
Island, no sedges to sigh amongst; he must make his 
music other ways. Down at your very feet, then, 
within a dry weed he'll set up such a skirling, high 
and thin, as one may hear who listens at the Fairy 
Mound, on a night when they're footing their reels 
there in-by. Somewhere up my chimney, moreover, 
he'd a bass-horn stowed away, and whiles in the 
night-time would labour to wind it. Hooch! Hooch! 
I would hear in my slumber, and by that token 
know the rnists were on the way. 

So it was once when Father Allan had announced 
at bed-time he was starting early the mom's morn 
to say Mass at Castlebay. But all that night my 
chimney puffed and groaned, and when I looked 
out in the morning, Rudha Ban was shut in from 
the rest of the world; and at breakfast there was 
Father Allan. In my folly I ventured. It wouldn't 
be easy going to Barra? • 



RUDHA BAN 73 

"It wouldn't be easy finding Barra," answered 
Father Allan a bit drily. 

Nor is the wind content to breathe on reed and 
brass alone. In a comer of my window-pane he 
had hidden away his wee fiddle, whereon in broad 
daylight he would scrape me many a fine strathspey. 
Onc^ again, in the small hours, he mocked me the 
harp so well that when the grey-eyed one brought 
me in my morning cup of tea, she asked me. Was I 
playing? 

Down below in the townlands the fires are burn- 
ing on the floors the year round. But up on Rudha 
Ban, when the wind was easterly, not a chimney 
in the house would draw, no matter what chimney- 
pots Father Allan might be getting over from The 
Adjoining Kingdom (in such wise it pleased him, 
whose own stock was kin to the Lords of the Isles, 
to mention the mainland), while to keep any slates 
at all on the westerly slope of his roof he had to 
have them set in mortar. Lower down, he had surely 
been snugger. But, "I like to think they can be 
seeing this" he said one day as he was putting oil 
into the lamp that burned before the altar in St. 
Michael's: whenever the boats came darkling 
through the Kyles, the men were on the look-out 
for that glimmer in the narrow windows up above. 
And if it behove a church for men seafaring to be 
sightly, where was its priest's place but beside it? 
and what was a trifle of weather more or less to 



74 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

him, against an outlook North, East, West, and 
South, across salt water? For even to the East, 
where Beann Sgrithean shuts off the Minch for most 
part, through the throat of the Kyles he runs leap- 
ing and flinging. Sunrise and moon-set too Father 
Allan might observe from his own bedroom win- 
dow; but it is not right to put a window to the 
West, — even in a priest's house. So for sight of the 
long bright weltering way that leads at sundown 
straight to Labrador, Father Allan must step forth 
beyond his west-croft wall; thence looking on the 
inland sea and far out-by, where on the reefs of 
Uist the Atlantic surges to a slower beat than would 
be stirring the light heels of the Minch. 

So facing, Uist lies to right; in some part within 
cuckoo-cry across the Kyles, yet never with such 
looks of nearness as might be, because of the South- 
west wind and what he brings. Well away in the 
ofBng to left rises Barra, behind whose hills in win- 
ter-time the sun is bedded. That way come the 
mists from the Banks. Midway lies the low green 
isle of Fuday,^ under sheep now; where the last of 
the Strangers were put to the sword in the night- 
time long ago by the M'Neills. Near-by on Rudha 
Ban itself are cattle grazing, and women and bairns 
at the herding; and lower to landward, the Other 
House, the "merchant's," who buys up the fish and 
keeps The Shop down in the harbour. Below on 
'Fo6-dy. 



RUDHA BAN 75 

the linklands, the Baile, biggest of the townlands; 
something like a score of huts that front this way 
and that way, with neither a kail-yard at the house- 
end nor a brier-bush at the door. From above they 
appear as flung down and left there, as a child will 
leave his blocks when tired with play. But, "You 
ought to see them when I go in to say the early 
Mass," Father Allan said; "when the sun is just up, 
and the thatches all smoking like censers." Four 
townlands of these were in sight, nor any thatch of 
them but covered his own people. He never failed 
of stopping in the chapel doorway to look down on 
them, he said; having first to make a comer where 
one day the wind laid hold on me so roughly that, 
before I could stop myself, I was skipping down the 
brae. But, "That's nothing!" laughed Father 
Allan. Come winter, and he'd be going this way, — 
leaning half his length before him — wading in the 
wind. . . . "And if it would stop, down I 
would go!" 

Something being amiss with the draught of the 
chimney upstairs, in the room where he kept his 
books, he sat in the dining-room; w'here I remember 
we went fireless twice or thrice, not to be smothered 
in smoke, with the peat-ash flying all about the 
room. With the wind in any quarter but the East, 
however, the fire in the grate kept this room cheery; 
after a spare fashion it was well appointed, and most 
delicately clean, as indeed was the house all over. 



76 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

I used to wish, when I saw Father Allan weary, 
that he had a couch to stretch himself upon, or at 
least that his one arm-chair, covered in hair-cloth, 
were not well-nigh as straight in the back as himself. 
But he thought that in this, with his feet in another, 
he did well enough. 

On the sill of the deep-set double window giving 
South were some pots of pelargonium and geranium, 
very thrifty and in bloom, but not in Father Allan's 
favour, helping as they did the curtains (cotton-lace 
and festooned crosswise) to shut out the sight of the 
water and the hills of Barra, and that "othering 
{atharraichy of the weather that he never wearied 
watching. On the walls, tinted robin's-egg-blue, 
hung some views in Spain and photographs of brother 
priests, and a coloured print or two, agreeably 
faded, of Our Lady and the Sacred Heart; and while 
warming his feet he could look up at the likeness of 
his late beloved "Bishop Angus^ — just a darling 
bishop !" All these were of his choosing : so were not 
the curtains, nor the vases on the side-board, of that 
uneasy sort that topple over if you touch them; thin 
glass, backed with quicksilver, painted in crude 
colours, huge, yet light, as corks. Nor again were the 
china poodles facing right and left from either side 
the black marble clock, which had been his "presen- 
tation" when he left Dalibrog. He had hinted once 
at putting these up-stairs, but, "They're very hand- 

^A-har-ich — the a short. 



RUDHA BAN 77 

some, you know !" the grey-eyed one had protested, 
quite shocked. While as for the curtains, "I held 
out against her for three years — but I had to give in 
at last," he confessed. 

"A people [the Highlanders] careless of art and 
apparently incapable of it, their utmost effort hith- 
erto reaching no further than to the variation of 
bars of colour in square chequers," declares John 
Ruskin — whose own forbears {na Rusgainn) had 
none the less borne a hand in cutting out the serpent- 
work on the crosses in Innis Draonich ^ — the burial- 
island in Loch Awe. This he must surely not have 
known. But while art-work and art-craft of honour- 
able sorts are done to-day by Gaels town-bred, so 
far as for the country-folk John Ruskin may be 
right enough. I have seen in no black house what 
would disprove him. The wild and lonesome loveli- 
ness about them quickens the Islanders' fancy not to 
artful hand-work, but to speech and song. 

"Have they any such fear of the sea as we hear 
of amongst Newfoundland fishermen'?" I once asked 
Father Allan. 

"It is only the rocks that they fear." 

"It would be hard to find anywhere men better 
pleased with their lives than these poor fishermen," 
he read me out one day from a journal he'd begun 
but not got very far with. "You'll see them out all 
night in a storm," he went on, "coming up from the 

''Ao like u in curl. In-ish Dru-nich. 



78 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

boats in the morning with a song in their mouths. 
Their poor wives will have been up on the hillside 
since before daylight looking out for them, and 
when the men come up singing and joking, they say, 
'Here we are breaking our hearts — and you're quite 
pleased!' . . . I've often watched one of them in 
a rough sea, baiting lines at the gunwale, both hands 
engaged, upright without effort and unconcerned, 
balancing himself with the very bottom of his boat 
standing up against the back of him. . . . There 
was a man who had been a deep-sea sailor came here 
once, and they didn't like to have him around, for 
he was always falling overboard." 

More than once I am hearing it said that the Celt 
is by nature no sea-farer, and that the present hardi- 
ness of Outer Islesmen comes, together with the 
white heads on some of them, from the Lochlanner 
(the Norse) blood that's in them, — that's to say, 
from the vikings. Maybe so. And yet . . . before 
ever a Lochlanner footed Innse-Gaill, the monks 
from Holy Isle were boating these waters in coracles 
of bull's-hide stretched on sticks. "To be feared 
of a thing, and yet to do it, is what makes the pret- 
tiest kind of a man," says Alan Breck. And pretty 
men must they have been, for all their frocks, who 
risked their share of bones in such a craft amongst 
the rocks and shoals and winds and mists of Innse- 
Gaill. 

Whether from sea-roving priests, then, or sea- 



RUDHA BAN 79 

rovers from Lochlann, as it may be, the Islesman 
to-day has this notion, "The sea is more blessed than 
the land." 

"Where will he be?" asked Father Allan one 
coarse night at Dalibrog, when sent for from across 
the Kyles. One man had stayed with the boat at 
Kilbride, while the other had come to fetch Father 
Allan. On the way to the landing-place, footing it 
through wind and rain, Father Allan bethought him 
how there was no shelter there. "Where will he be 
waiting?" he asked. 

"He won't be on the shore at all, by The Book! 
It is in the boat itself he will be. The sea is holier 
to live on than the land." For The One-we-won't- 
mention has no power at all in Innse-Gcdll outside 
high-water mark; you're safe there from the Fuadh 
as you were within the flock. 

After vespers of a Sunday afternoon in summer, 
when it chances fair, you'll always see some of the 
men with their backs to the wall of the west-croft 
on Rudha Ban, smoking pipes and looking out upon 
the water. . . . "But you'll never see the women up 
there." They get enough of that, I daresay, while 
the boats are out. I wouldn't be calling the tunes 
of them just merry, the sailor-songs the men sing, 
yet the words are mostly otherwise; for if there's 
plenty sadness in the lives of fisher-folk, that is 
mainly on the spindle-side. To the men, the spice 
of danger and the pleasures of good company; to 



8o FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

the women, the watching and the waiting. To 
them, too, the herding from early to black, with as 
many wettings, most days, as the hours between. 
Healthy, then, in the main though they are, bearing 
broods of a dozen with only the knee-wife's tending, 
and keeping their young looks far beyond the term 
of women in the town, the face-ache — ^plague of 
draughty places — vexes them sorely. At ceilidh, 
and the peat-fire like to roast you, you'll always be 
seeing some woman with her head happed in her 
shawl. 

Good reason why, then, I should say, that lullabies 
should have that mournful lilt in Innse-Gaill, where 
any night is like to make wives widows and weans 
fatherless. Good reason again why an Island woman 
would sooner look upon a curtain than the sea-scape 
it shuts out. I fancy the grey-eyed one spoke for 
most of them, that day we visited the cailleach and 
the long girl in the glen. 

At the top of the path we turned to view about 
us. The Kyles in their shallows were mocking the 
rainbow, the rock-pools shining like the lift; the sea 
in its deeper reaches was a floor fit for the Saints 
in Heaven to cast their crowns upon. Seeing which, 
I said . . . well, — what anyone might be saying; 
whereat the grey-eyed one smiled indulgently. 
"Don't you see it yourself?" 
"Yes," she admitted; "I see it now." 
Live and learn. One summer, two artists, friends 



RUDHA BAN 81 

of Father Allan, stopping with him, she had been by 
way of hearing somewlKit of their talk. . . , "And 
I would be thinking to myself. What do they see? 
what do they mean at all"? — and weren't they 
foolish to be talking about colours!" 

A fine creature none the less, the grey-eyed girl; 
one with qualities to serve her master better than 
the best of eyes for colour. The daughter of a Bun- 
a'-Mhuilinn woman, holding herself high and her 
ofBce too, she knitted and span for Father Allan, and 
had the knack to make delicious even the salt fish 
and potatoes that were the best and all he got to 
eat for half the year; while with a younger girl, 
red-headed (who was always letting fall the fire- 
irons early in the morning, while redding the room 
just under mine), she kept the chapel-house a pat- 
tern for neatness and cleanness, and her master care- 
free, so far as she was able. 

Thanks to her, he never knew what sort of a 
home-coming certain of his men-folk made, one night 
while I was with him, — whisky about it, and too 
much of it. Some of the girls, coming home from the 
Shetlands, were aboard; there was screaming, then, 
down in the harbour, over the wild work the men 
made of letting down the sail, nor were the men 
themselves just what you might be calling quiet with 
it. But by good luck the noise came up not at all to 
the fire-end where we sat, though plainly enough to 
be heard in the kitchen. 



82 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Knowing this, next day one of the men sought 
out the girl. "Did you tell Father Allan?" he asked 
anxiously. 

"No," said she, "I didn't. But it wasn't for the 
sake of you. It's just that I don't want Father 
Allan to be breaking his heart over you." For she 
knew that if he knew, he would have them all up 
to the altar-rail, come Sunday morning. . . . "It's 
no use putting your heads down," he would warn 
them, having named them where they sat. "I can 
see you very well there." So up they must go, to 
take a good sorting before the whole church-full, and 
to sign the pledge before he would be letting them 
back to their seats. All of which, this good and 
faithful servant knew, were no kind of doings for a 
man with a "bad" heart. 

"A grand purveyor — when there's anything to 
purvey," as Father Allan well might call her, she 
watched the boats as a town house-wife watches the 
markets. One day I saw her stand looking out of 
window. . . . Could she be seeing colours? . . . 
Suddenly she cries, "They're goin' to fish for floun- 
ders ! Trothad, trothad, a Chaluinn ^ (hither, 
hither, Caluinn) !" — this last to a little chap herding 
near-by, whom she bids go down and intercept the 
men when they shall come ashore. 

"It's the son of my father and mother will do 

'Tro-a^ tro-at, a Chal-in! ' " " ' 



RUDHA BAN 83 

that!" cries Caluinn, delighted to be serving Father 
Allan. 

So that night we have a fried flounder to our sup- 
per, while another, split and salted, hangs over a 
line in the kitchen to dry against another meal. 

This was the season of plenty. Besides the 
flounders, then, sometimes she served us mackerel, 
sometimes herring, fresh or salt — never, I think, the 
coarser ling that is the stand-by in the black houses ; 
and once or twice a slender joint, of a savour most 
delicious, from one of the little thin sheep. Was it 
her boiling, I wonder, that made so tasty the small 
waxy potatoes, the turnips, and the kail^ These last 
two grew on a ledge half-way down the easterly 
flank of Rudha Ban, where the rock had been blasted 
to a depth sufRcient, and a plot walled round. From 
these she brewed us mighty broths — that sort that 
Lowlanders always refer to in the plural. . . . 
"They're very good the day. Will ye no' take a few 
more?" . . . Milk was too scant for much baking: 
bread had to come by many stages, and how old I 
cannot say, from the Clutha Bakery in Glasgow. 
But I remember most excellent wheaten scones now 
and then, home-made, and once or twice those potato- 
scones that are much the same, I suppose, the world 
over. There was always an egg to our breakfast, 
besides our porridge and our tea; and before this 
again, the real comfort of a cup of tea a-bed — "the 
way ladies have it on the mainland," where the 



84 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

good creature had once been for a little while in 
service. j 

Fortified therewith, I would be waiting by the 
kitchen fire when Father Allan came in from saying 
early Mass, a stately figure of a man in his soutane 
and beretta. Stooping, he would warm his hands 
(the chapel being even then a place to shiver in) 
before we went "down," — that is to say, into the 
sitting-and-dining-room. Porridge would no more 
than be dished out, nor tea poured, but he was 
started on a talk that would outlast the morning. 
The girl, coming in to lay the cloth for dinner, 
would find us at it still, to her great satisfaction. 
"It's just a good thing for him to have someone to 
be talking to," she would say to me afterwards. 

Going towards the table, telling me some tale, 
Father Allan lost no time, but crossing himself at 
the end of his sentence, would in the same breath 
begin on his In nomine Deo. . . . While I, taken 
unawares, would sometimes be well launched on a 
highly secular remark — or maybe laughing loudly at 
his last words — ^before I could stop myself. This 
never put him out. But I remember his pulling him- 
self up aghast more than once in the middle of the 
meal to ask me. Did he say the blessing? 

We had always a cup of tea or cocoa, and some- 
times a pudding, at the end. These served, the girl 
would then take up. her stand in the doorway to 
relate, with much dramatic action, how Peigi Mhor, 



RUDHA BAN 85 

a woman somewhat up in years, was chasing a sheep 
out of her barley-croft that morning, or whatever 
else happened to be the latest news up from the 
Baile. One day, at the start of the "ferry consecu- 
tive weather," she asked me at this time. Had I such 
a song as this? Then, fingering her apron-hem, her 
eyes fixed on the curtains of her choice, with a far- 
away look in them, and a little plait between them 
that was not there commonly, she lifted the tune 
that was running in her head all morning. 

With that, I got out my pencil and paper and 
started noting down. 

"Father Domin has come at last!" said Father 
Allan. 



FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



"The songs and the sgeulachdan ^ (tales) were all 
driven over here from The Adjoining Kingdom," I 
remember Father Allan saying. "They could get no 
further, and here they have stayed;" the former in 
greater store, we found, than he had at the start 
supposed. We should be doing well, he had thought, 
to get — say — fifty. But within his own house were 
forthcoming from the grey-eyed girl some sixty-odd. 
... "I didn't know I had so many!" . . . What 
with these and the songs the wife of Ruaraidh had, 
with a song or two a-piece from women here and 
there amongst the townlands; with songs from 
Gilleaspuig the skipper and the other gillean ^ 
(lads), as well as from the old folk and the children 
even, there came at last to be set down something 
over a hundred. A good showing that, thought he, 
and made great reckoning on seeing them one day in 
print, as also on the fair copy I was to write out 
for him meanwhile. 

"Send me the songs," were his last words at Fol- 

^ Skiil-ach-kan. 
'Gil-yan. (G hard.) 

86 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 87 

achar, as we shook hands over the side of the two- 
wheeled cart; cutting short what I was trying to 
get out with a "Never mind about that! — only send 
me the songs." 

Said I to myself, He'll not be waiting long. So 
a fortnight after, so soon as I was settled down 
again, I walked into Stirling from St. Ninian's to 
buy me a blank music-book by way of a beginning. 
But that very day came word that he was gone. 



II 



Certain few — as the Child Rimes — Father Allan 
believed were nowhere else set down. Others 
already long in print for use by Highland Choirs he 
wished noted anew; whether for the sake of some 
uncommon turn the tune might be taking in his 
island, or of recovering what he called the folky way 
of it, — somehow lost out in course of noting hitherto. 
None were to claim, as against all others, to be the 
one right way of the tune; but only to set forth faith- 
fully the way of some one singer, in a region where 
each has his own way — the way of his mother, most 
like, with a twist of his own to it extra. 

Mark him at ceilidh — how he'll keep to his own 
way unmoved, and to his own key too, amongst his 
neighbours at their loudest. Yet how he came by 
any way at all would puzzle him to tell you. 'Tm 



88 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

sure I never wasted any time learning them," he'll 
say. 

Easy come, easy go. Once let him get out of that 
way of his, and it's odds if ever he gets back into it 
again. How this may come about, I had the luck to 
observe for myself in Father Allan's Island. 

Ill 

With no dearth of men-singers, the music at the 
Mass was mostly made by women. But when I first 
came, these were still at the fish-curing in the Shet- 
lands, whither they go in May. Meanwhile, some 
of the young girls, led by the schoolmaster, gave us 
the Kyrie and Sanctus from Webb in F; a weak sort 
of a Sunday-school stuff, to be sure, but, sweetened 
as it was by their fresh trebles and the schoolmas- 
ter's soft Irish tenor, we went on well enough with 
it for some four Sundays. 

Then on a Friday night a herring-boat came in 
(somewhat tumultuously, as I have told) ; and next 
morning when I stepped abroad on Rudha Ban, if 
I looked along the slopes and hollows, brown-faced 
and strapping girls I had not seen before were herd- 
ing there ; while down among the houses in the Baile 
I could see great going-in-and-out. On Sunday 
again, from out the loft where the singers sat, there 
sounded a strain more robust — and more churchly 
too — than Webb in F; a hymn of several stanzas in 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 89 

the Gaelic. Said I to myself, Now that is something 
like. 

Was it Gregorian? I asked of Father Allan, so 
soon as we were set down to the tea and porridge 
we never got until after Mass on Sundays. 

His face fell. It was a song the women used to 
be singing in the houses, he replied; a Cradle-song 
of the Blessed Virgin, that he had taken a fancy to 
hear sung in the chapel now and then. . . . "But 
they have spoiled it — do you hear how plain it is? 
But everyone had her own way of the tune, and 
no two the same, — and how would it do for every- 
one to be putting in her own twists and turns? So 
the only way was to leave them all out. And now 
there isn't a woman on the island, so far as I know, 
who has the old way." 

"What a pity !" I had all but said, when our talk 
of the night before came back to me, — or his talk 
rather; my part, at our ceilidh, being mainly to listen. 
The Church in Italy in the Middle Ages, he had 
said, had made great use of the Canti Populari, — 
that is to say, of matter like that of the Cradle-song. 

Now, must not these too have been "spoiled" — 
made "plain" — after a like fashion, before being 
put to a like purpose? Yet look at them now — the 
twists and the turns to them. Wasn't there a good 
chance, then, that some day the Cradle-song itself 
might 

"Sprout out again!" he cried, delighted. 



90 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

And yet, when he came to think it over later, 
might the mischief so indeed be quite undone? 
Give the singers time, and the sprouting-out might 
be reckoned upon, to be sure. But in the self-same 
ways? He thought not. That song, then, he gave 
over for lost; in nowise consoled by knowing the 
Church the richer for another hymn-tune. 

IV 

And what he, in all good-will and piety, had 
wrought unwittingly on one, he saw — or thought to 
see — threatening all and sundry; and that through 
an endeavour no less well-meant than his — the Mod ^ 
to wit. 

Like his own aim, that of this great yearly meet- 
ing on the mainland is the good and the long-life 
of the Highland song. Beginning some twenty 
years before,^ to this end were formed the High- 
land Choirs that are now to be found pretty well 
all over the Highlands and Isles, and in such Low- 
lands towns as Glasgow and Edinburgh, where are 
Highlanders. These use collections noted both on 
the staff and in Tonic Sol-Fa, with of course the 
twists and turns cut out. . . . "As though you were 
to fit a statue into a box by taking off the nose and 
ears," said Father Allan. 

Every year in the autumn, these last twenty years, 

' Maud. 

'This was written in 1906. 



'FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



91 



these Highland Choirs have met for their prize- 
singing at the Mod, wherever that may be. Dundee 
it was, the year that I attended it. Here also come 
the poets, the harpers, the fiddlers, and those who 
take the tune at ceilidh — or the verse at a waulking 
— with themselves (alone). And surely these last 
would be allowed their own way with it at the Mod? 
Not at all. Is it a wedding, the Mod, or a waulk- 
ing whatever, for each to be lilting as likes him? 
At the Mod must each sing like the other, and all 
by the book. Not thus, then (the way of a girl I 
overheard singing in the Hospital scullery at Dali- 
brog, while rubbing at her board) : 

M. M. J=50. 






j=^- 



^^t f^^ =J E 



$= 



i^iqc 



TX 



Mo r{in geal dil 

but thus: 



eas - dll - eas, dll 



eas 



i 



EE 



^ 



i3 



^ 



W^&^^=gE 



iES 



Mo r{in geal dil - eas - dil - eas, dil - eas. 

And this latter, once got by heart, takes place of 
the other forever. So there you have, to Father 
Allan's thinking, a folk-song "spoiled." 

And more and more each year, up to the time when 
I fell in with him, in all good faith this thing was 
doing; not only in towns on the mainland, but in 



92 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



Father Allan's own island no less ; outside the track 
of steamers though it lies, and at all times like to be 
cut off from Uist even by the winds and tides and 
mists; whence there is no going to the Mod; where 
is no other choir than that one hears on a Sun- 
day at the Mass, nor singing from books, — where 
indeed are no books to sing from. But every year 
at the fish-curing in the Shetlands, the girls are 
forgathering from May to September with Skye 
girls and girls from the Lews, with girls from all 
over the Highlands and Isles, — Mod singers, some 
of them. And all too readily the new ways are 
caught up from them, brought home to be brought 
forth at ceilidh. Under Father Allan's own roof 
wasn't I hearing the grey-eyed girl, who never had 
been to the Shetlands even, singing after the new 
fashion : 



M. M. j=60. 



^ 



lfc=HI 



ISSE 



X 



^ 



mf -= 



Hi o ro na ho ro eil •'. 

instead of this, — ^her old way, — which by luck she 
had not yet forgotten : 

M. M. J=60. 



^^^ 



*J mf 



Hi 



na ho ro eil 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 93 

"How can you sing it that way?" demanded 
Father Allan. 

"But I like it!" she protested; "I think it's 
lovely!" 

The sooner the old ways were on paper, then, the 
better. Father Allan thought. 



Now what might there be in the setting-down of 
some few songs to take up the time of one woman, 
with a man and another woman to help her in one 
way and another, well-nigh from a Lady-Day to St. 
Michael's? 

Well, — in tfee first place, songs were not all that 
I got in Father Allan's Island. In the second, the 
task is not one to be done by day's work. "We're 
a humorous people," Father Allan warned me at 
the start; "better take us while we're in the hu- 
mour." One day, then, you'll get a dozen : the next 
day you'll get none. 

Not that they grudge them. "My grannie has a 
song for you," a little girl said who was taking me 
about in Uist, one day that I came into her black 
house. 

The cailleach was eighty-four and past her sing- 
ing days, but keen on helping me; clapping me on 
the shoulder when I got the phrase, so patiently 



94 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

repeating when I didn't, that I said at last, "I'm 
sorry to be troubling you!" 

Smiling in every wrinkle, she mumbled something 
that I did not catch. "What's that?" I asked of 
little Bella. 

"She says it makes her happy to give you this," 
replied the child. And again: two girls came one 
Sunday afternoon while I was with the nuns at Dali- 
brog, to hear the clarsach. I having played and 
sung. Sister Ermina said, "Now you must give Miss 
Murray an C)ran Luathaidh ^ (waulking-song)." 

But nothing at all was forthcoming but giggling 
and blushing, and bashful looks between them, until 
I said to ease them, "Och, I know how it is with 
myself ! I never can mind a song when I want to." 

"Yes, — it is just that!" responded the elder girl 
gratefully. "We have plenty, and we will not be 
home before they are coming to us. But we can't 
mind them now." 

"I am sure, if you only could think on them, you 
would be giving me plenty Orain Luathaidh." 

"Yes, indeed ! If you will let us know when you 
will be coming agaiuj we will be thinking on them." 

Highland or Lowland, they are all alike. I well 
recall one of the old Newhaven fishwives, a night I 
was spending with them, ransacking her brains for 
a song, and finding none there. 

^Or-an L6o-y. 



'FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



95 



"Ye' re awfu' needin' priggin' (coaxing) !" scoffed 
another. 

"Na, na!" she protested; "It isna thot. But Ah 
canna juist mind it." 

But only let your singer's hands be busy at what- 
ever work the song was made to sweeten, and the 
song itself is in his mouth before he'll know he's 
singing. . . . "If you would only be coming down 
some time when I'm mending my nets !" I heard a 
young fisherman say in Father Allan's house, where 
he had given one song, in his big deep-sea-sounding 
bass, then found himself aground. And one day 
later when we took him at his word, he made that 
good. 

VI 

So much for the singers. Now for the songs 
themselves. Such an one as this is soon set down: 
M. M. J=60. Quietly but with deep feeling. 



^e 



^ 



IP 



Hor in no 



ho 



hi - u 



o, 



Hor in 



i r^-=i=^ - 



1 — I 

o, Hor in no ho hi 



no - ho 



> 

hi 



I 



'S arm tha ciurrt - e do mhath-air. 



96 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

'S fhuair mi naigheachd di-Ciadain, 
Cuirich mulaid air chiadabh, 
'S gun deacK thu dka'n-t-siorradh, 
'S gun do thriall thu do Pharais. 
Ho-ri-no-ho, etc. 

I got the news Wednesday, 
Putting sorrow on hundreds, 
That you're gone on your journey, 
To Paradise faring. 

Thy mother is stricken. 



If you can get any tune at all, you can get that 
one. But again, as Father Allan said, "A great deal 
of these people's singing is nothing more to them 
than just a way of doing it." 

I had just then been noting down the Tangle 
Rime, picked up some days before as you'd pick up 
the tangle itself on the strand, in course of a stravaig- 
ing. We three being once more together and at work, 
I had put the girl in mind of her promise, and as 
before she chanted, rubbing her hands deasal, to 
Father Allan's great delight: somehow he had not 
happened on this sort of song before. He took down 
the words. "And now," said I, "I'll take down the 
tune." 

"But there isn't any tune !" exclaimed the girl. 

"Why, yes!" 

"Indeed there isn't any tune in it at all," she 
insisted. "It's just nothing but rimes." 

"Will I play it for you?" 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 97 

The turn of her head said Yes to my asking and 
No to my thinking. 

Against the north wall of the dining-and-sitting- 
room stood the one musical instrument on the island, 
barring the trump (the Jewsharp) and a stand of 
pipes, — a small harmonium of a most grudging dis- 
position. I set to work upon the pedals, and after 
a little the keys yielded up. 



-a— ^ 



^^^^^^^^fe?-^ 



Now, the Eriskay girls have a laugh of their own 
— something like this: 



^ m^=zt: ^^^ 



ff (1) 

Ha ba! E vo ! 

and they say diat in the Shetlands, when girls from 
all over the Isles and the mainland are fooling 
together, you may tell the one from Eriskay by 
that wild laugh of hers. And if I never heard it 
before, I heard it now. 

"Do you knoiv" says she at last, and she wiping 
her eyes on her apron, "I never knew I was 
singin' it!" 

It was when she had gone out to look after her 
bannocks that Father Allan said, "A great deal of 
these people's singing is nothing more to them than 
just a way of doing it." 

^A as in hat. 



98 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



That is, of doing the words. Quite as often as 
not, when you ask your singer for a phrase again, 
he'll speak it for you. I remember that the young 
fisherman who gave me his own fine folky way of a 
Skye song shook his head when Father Allan asked 
him, Had he it? 

"Didn't I hear you singin' it?" asked his cousin 
sitting by. 

He shook his head again. ... "I have only three 
verses." 

And there were two women giving me a waulking- 
song, who would allow me no choice between 

M. M. J=108. Briskly. 



i 



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1 — — B — J. il 



Hi- ri 



and, 



o, 



a Mhiir - i Bhuidh -e ! 



l^A- 



tj 



5 =^^=?=F 



Hi - ri - o, a Mhiir - i Bhuidh -e ! 

Weren't they the same words? Yet they never 
failed to bring in first the one way, then the other, 
regularly. Moreover, said the wife of Duncan son 
of Donald son of Caluinn, "When I am pulling, if 
I get a 'mord wrong, the cloth just goes all wrong!" 

VI 

Home-spun like the song itself, and some twenty 
yards in length (another point of likeness), the web 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



99 



to be waulked is flung out, dripping wet, on the 
waulking-board of heavy drift-wood planks set up 
on stones. Five women sit facing from either side, 
and when someone of the company strikes up her 
M. M. J=88. 




^=^S^^^S 



Hi ri liu il o 'Coasheinn'san fhid-eag air[i]giod? 

"Who will blow the silver whistle?" 

each one of the ten clutches her two fists-full, in 
time to the tune, to send the web deasal round and 
round. At One^ she throws herself to right and 
lays hold; at Two, brings it up in front of her; 
at Three, pushes it off to left; at ¥our, straightens 
up again, and so on; while the cloth, being thumped 
and rubbed and pulled and twisted by a score of 
hard-working hands, grows hot and shrinks. 

Meanwhile, the company are giving back their 



iE^ 



> 



^ 



Ha ro hu o li{i 

To which the leader answers, 



i 



g y^-jT-^'— g=f - 



S 



:^ 



It « m w w— 

Mac mo Righ- tha tigh'nn a Al [a] - ba 
"My King's son is come to Scotland." 



m,f 



100 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

and so they go on with verse and antiphon for some 
ten couplets. Then the leader strikes into a higher 
key — the tune goes more quickly — the women work 
harder. . . . Ten stanzas more, and again the pitch 
goes up — the work goes faster still. . . . Some fifty 
couplets in all to a waulking-song, at the end of 
which the waulkers fetch their breath; while the 
cailleach in authority measures with her Highland 
yard-stick (which is four feet long) how much the 
cloth has shrunken, and finally declares, "It will 
take about four or five songs more," 



VII 



"There's a woman down in the Baile can give you 
an Ossianic Lay," Father Allan announced, coming 
in one day from scouting. 

"Is there a tune to it?" I asked eagerly — this hav- 
ing so far been in question with us. 

"She says there's a sort of an edge to it." 

As fast as possible — Take breath only when your breath gives 
out (never mind if that's in the middle of a word), and don't 
try to make it sound too well ! 



m ,^4—u=r^ E^^ f= x-^r (f ^ 



^ 



La dhuinn [f hin] air Lu - ach- ar Leobhar, Do chear-ar ■ 
Is 



Eg^=^E ^-.^-j-;z 



chrodh-a, Bhu-ighin -ach mi - f^in 



'FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



101 



^ 



^ 



^ & ^ 



g^^ U"; ;^ 



i 



Os - car is Daorg-las, Bha Fionn f bin anns b'e Mac Gamh-sl. 
3 '- 3- 



^- 



--^^==^ 



-H 



=t= 



Chunn' [a] - cas tigh'nn-o'n mhon - ach Fear 



i 



--^'^ 



"fi 



fad - a dubh 'se air aon [a] - chois, Le 




choc - al dubh ci-ar- dubh craoic - ion; Bha 



^^ 



w. 



=^ 



ap - ran dba'n eid- 



eadh 



chi - and" air. 



A day we were at the Hillock of Rushes, 

Like five together was our band, 

Myself, and Oscar, and Douglas; 

Fionn himself was in it, that was Cumhal's son. 

All at once was seen coming from the mountain 

A long one-legged dark man, 

With a cloak of dark-grey skin. 

There was a harness on him. 

On the edge between speaking and singing I found 
it, as not only much of song amongst this people, but 
much of speech itself, so soon as there enters any- 
thing of passion into it. "When they come up to 
tell me of anyone dying or in trouble, they always 
chant it," said Father Allan, whose own praying was 



102 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

the same in kind, but who didn't know he did it that 
way until I told him. Nor are they the deeper feel- 
ings only that tend among Islesfolk towards a can- 
tillation. Good company and the comforts of the 
fire are enough to set a whole roomful to warbling. 
Time and again, when there were visitors in the 
kitchen, I, sitting in the next room, would think I 
heard them striking up. . . . The girl has been 
putting them in mind of something for me, I would 
think . . . and all at once they'd drop back into 
speaking. 

So near on the Edge of the World is music to its 
own far edge — that is, to its beginnings; not yet cut 
loose from words; no more, as yet, than just a way 
of doing it. And to set down such ways is to deal 
as it were with the wind in its likings and in its 
long whisperings amongst the quicken-leaves, and 
with the mouthings of the brook in pebbly places. 
One comes in time to make a good shot at the pitch 
and intervals — bearing always in mind that the tone 
is rather that of speech than of song. The puzzle is 
— where to be putting in your bars. 

You cannot make the Gaelic go with the stick 
without doing violence to the quantities of Gaelic 
speech, and these are fixed. Long must be long, 
whether it be sung or spoken; short must be short. 
Say ceilidh to a Highlander, within whose house 
the thing itself is every night, and so you bear not 
down on the first syllable, he hears you as he heard 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



103 



you not. Say hata, and he understands a boat ; but 
hata is a stick. In an Uran Luathaidh, to be sure, 
or in a Port-a-Beoil ^ (Mouth-tune, for dancing to), 
the liberties of English balladry are sometimes taken; 
but even in these, or in crooning a child, the natural 
stress of the words does not always fall in with the 
thump on the board or the floor, or with the swing- 
ing of the mother's body — does not keep step, as it 
were, though both go along at the same gait, though 
on the ear they fall combined; just as to the eye 
there comes the sight of an elm-tree in the wind, the 
trunk and the greater boughs rocking steadily to and 
fro amidst the thousand shakes and grace-notes of 
the lesser branches. For example, this bran Cadail 
na Bothan-Airidh ^ (Shelling Lullaby : 
M. M. J=92. 



^ 



? 



^ 



-^- 



Cha la bi ur abh aig, Cha la 



bi 



ho, 



i 



W 



ibii^^-y 



^^ 



l^±. 



W^=^ 



^ 



Cbaor-ainn 's a chaor-ainn. Dean sol-us dbomh, 1 a bhag ! 



^^t=^^^^ 



Cba la bi o - ba li bbo. 

Cha-la-Ki, etc. 

Las mur gun Ibsadh a choinneal dhomh! 

^ Porsht-a-Peel. 

' Or-an Cat-al na B6-an Arr-y. 



104 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Cha-la-hi, etc. 

Chiiram fear bhroilleach shoillear dhomh! 
Cha-la-ht, etc. 

"There was a woman out at a shelling/ and her 
husband had gone to the townland for the night. 
She was putting her child to sleep. The light com- 
ing over the half-door was taken off her. Looking 
round, she saw a form of a man she didn't know; 
and she sang this lullaby, asking the embers to light 
up like a candle; and she sang, 

" 'The care of Him of the Bright Breast be on me.' 

"He then said, 'It is well for you that you said 
that!' and he went away." 

Father Allan was reading this out from his notes 
when the grey-eyed girl, sitting by, said, — and her 
eyes like saucers, 

"That would be the Water-horse." 

"The poor Water-horse !" said Father Allan after 
she went out : "He gets blamed for everything." 

To return to our rhythms : the Islesman has been 
singing ragtime all his life, as the Bourgeois Gentil- 
homme was speaking prose, nor knowing he was 
"doing it that way." In noting it, then, why not 
leave the bars all out, as the i6th Century madrigal- 
ists did"? 

' Hut at the hill-grazings, ■whither they used to drive the cattle 
on the first day of May, and leave them there in charge of the 
women until September. 



'FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



105 



Well, — ^maybe in their day men-and-women-sing- 
ers had more time to spare — ^maybe more patience 
than I. "It's only a matter of arithmetic," said Her- 
bert Hughues, when I looked a bit askance at his 
otherwise admirable pages in The Songs of Uladh. 
To me, who have no head for figures, his Elizabethan 
stave is a bit discouraging: I miss the bars, as I 
should miss the blue Fs and red Cs from amongst my 
yellow harp-strings. With the modern staff, then, 
one does her best; taking care to mix duly her 2/4 
measures with 3/4, 6/8 with 3/4 and 2/4, and so on. 
Otherwise, on hearing this : 

M. M. J=92. 



^ 






i^ 



j^-"^^^?^^^ 



fi=p= 



^EA. 



&^ 



=E 



one might set down this ; 



g^ 



=^=fi 



dvisi 



5^ 



Then someone shall say behind one's back, "The 
Wounding of the Evil Eye on her ! She doesn't give 
out the tune as she gets it." 



VIII 



Yet not in rhythm but in mode — in the position 
of the half-tones in the scale the tune is built on — 
inheres that quality of Highland music that one will 



io6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

be calling plaintive, and another mystic, and an- 
other weird, according to his own make-up. 

Now I grant you the weird and the mystic. Where 
else, if not on the True Edge of the Great World? 
And as for plaintiveness, I grant you good measure 
of that. But to take it in token of the Celtic Gloom. 
. . . Well, — we'll have that out later. 

Now, this quality — weird, mystic, plaintive as 
you will — has also been labelled Gregorian. And 
how may that have come there? more than one has 
asked me. The first answer to hand would be. That 
the Children of Columcille, who christianised the 
Islesfolk some twelve hundred years ago, had done 
the same, at the same time, for their folk-song. 

But would that have really been the way of it, 
there or anywhere"? The Church, wherever she has 
come, has been rather by way of taking-on and mak- 
ing-over, than of casting-out, old ways, old tunes, 
and old Saints even. And what did he think about 
it? I asked Father Allan. 

The folk-song came first, he declared. 

And indeed, on going into the matter, one finds 
authority to bear him out. One finds, in that great 
web called the plain-song, plenty of threads home- 
spun, plenty of tunes that, like the Cradle-song I 
heard them singing at St. Michael's, had served the 
people in their own houses before they served the 
Church. 

But suppose now these were threads in truth — 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 107 

stout clues to be laid hold upon with hands, and so 
followed back along the course of years to their be- 
ginnings. Whither would they lead us? 

To Eastward, to Southward] to Rome and to 
Byzantium in their great days ; to the coasts and isles 
of the iEgean, to the upland pastures of Judea: 

This strand of gold should bring us to a temple 
wherein one intones the Hymn to Helios : 

That other, to the court-yard of a Roman villa, 
where the cithara is plucked whilst someone sings : 

Another still, and no less fair than they, to a way 
re-echoing a procession "whereon the women and 
children had best not look" : 

One again, to a gree.n spot in the wilderness, where 
a shepherd lad, "ruddy, and withal of a beautiful 
countenance, goodly to look to," keeps his father's 
sheep; lilting, to pass the time, some stave such as 
the young folk sing round Bethlehem at home; say. 
The Silent Dove in Far-off Lands, or Hind of the 
Dawn. 

One day, when this lad shall be King over Israel, 
he shall make, and Isrffil shall sing unto the Lord, 
new songs to these old tunes. 

Again: here are threads of flax and wool. One 
needs not wind these up to know that at the far ends 
are fishers and sailors, neat-herds and vine-dressers, 
— women singing round their houses too. In all, 
threads plenty. But, sort them as you will, none 
shall lead you to the True Edge of the Great World, 



io8 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Yet I think that if the plain-song loom had in its 
time been set up thereabout, the weaver would have 
found much the same wools to his woof as elsewhere. 
And this I think because of what befell me whenever 
I sang, at home or in The Adjoining Kingdom, the 
songs of Father Allan's Island. 

Here now (said I to myself) are songs such as 
none shall have ever heard the like of. But no. So 
far from that, none ever heard them but to liken 
them. It was never "How strange !" I was hearing, 

but "How that reminds me " of Spanish or 

Danish or Irish, of Troubadour and Trouvere, of 
Breton or Hungarian, of Maori or Esquimaux or 
North American Indian or Negro or Kashmiri or 
Hawaiian or Chinese or Japanese, of Old English, or 
of "something the Swami used to sing." Friends of 
Vivekananda used to be "reminded" of his chanting 
in the Sanskrit by Gilleaspuig's Nucdr is Mi learn 
Fhm (p. 236), which Arnold Dolmetsch finds like 
old English of the 16th Century. Cunninghame Gra- 
ham finds this Spanish, again; while the potter Ap- 
plegate has heard singing like to mine in the Ken- 
tucky mountains when they're carrying the dead. 
And when I sing the Song of the Water-horse to a 
Jew from the Baltic Provinces of Russia, he cries, 
"At last I have heard again a Karait!" Now, did I 
go to the Edge of the World for that? 

But when I am looking for myself into the songs 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 109 

of Spain, the Indian Raga, and the rest, behold ! — I 
am myself "reminded": 

Let a man sing of "Amor," or of "Gaol" or of 
"Lyubit" it is much the same sort of a tune that will 
do him, whatever his tongue, for a love-song. And 
why not? 

For when all men were of the one speech and the 
one language, each might be taking his own way of 
the tune as now, but it's odds they'd be singing the 
one tune: 

And when men's speech was confounded, and 
themselves scattered over the face of the earth, why 
wouldn't they be taking their old tunes along, and 
making up new words to them in their new tongues, 
as they are doing in the Isles to-day? 

So then, wherever these old tunes are abiding, in 
Spain, in Innse-Gaill, or on the Baltic shore or any- 
where, shall they not be reminding us not only of 
some other, but as well that the forbears of us all 
were once forgathering on the Plains of Shinar? 

It's not such an ill thought for these times. Nor 
need Rome be grudging it, that long before John the 
Arch-Chanter was sent to The Adjoining Kingdom 
"to teach the people singing," in the Isles they were 
singing round the peat-fires songs of a like lilt to the 
hymns of Holy Church : "come first," — ^oome out of 
the heads and hearts of Islesmen before the Cross 
was raised on Calvary. 



no FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

IX 

Friends of mine — ^Edinburgh people — had taken 
a farm-house in a Border shire. When I went there 
to visit them, I found the children past-masters in 
the local dialect. It wasn't "Yes, ma'am" when 
bid to do this or the other, but, "Ah wull thot — ^ut 
wull Ah no' *?" Which was all very well, said their 
mother, so long as they did not bring it in-doors. . . . 
"No Scotch must be spoken in the house." 

Now I cannot say off-hand for how long it was, 
but only that it ivas for long, that the Old Modes 
in music were in much the same case amongst musi- 
cians as the guid braid Scots of Berwickshire to-day 
is on the farm of Monynut. Only for the Church, 
indeed (wherein they were not admitted under their 
own names), they must have stayed altogether out- 
of-doors — that is to say, among the people — well- 
nigh until to-day. Plain-song and the folk-song — 
between them they, and they alone, kept life in the 
old Modes through many a long day when, if a man 
had anything to say, he must say it, by order of the 
schools, in the major or minor. And that these were 
for a time a vehicle sufficient, who shall question? 
But music, no more than men, could abide forever 
on its Plains of Shinar. 

Like to the Gael who, doing his best with the Eng- 
lish, can yet "say it so much stronger in the Gaelic" ; 
like to Landor who "thought best in Latin," there 



'FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



111 



have latterly been music-makers who can "say it 
stronger" on occasion in a speech esteemed outworn. 
So now, in a measure, the Old Modes do indeed 
enjoy their own again. And whenever, amidst the 
welter of the modern counterpoint, these lift their 
old-world voices, are not the ear and the heart too 
refreshed? I always fancy a deeper stillness falling 
then, and the folk listening as at no other time. . . . 
Maybe my likings persuade me. . . . But whether 
or no the schools can forego the Old Modes, folk- 
song has no choice in the matter. Change but one- 
half-note in your Dorian, JEolian, or Phrygian 
melody : in place of this 
M. M. J=88. 



± 



i^ 



IY=A 



^ 



mf 



Put 



^^^=^ 



l ¥=^ 



^- 



J^=^ 



P 



and there again you have a folk-song "spoiled." 

How then shall it fare at the hands of your col- 
lector who has never taken thought outside the major 
or the minor? He shall set it down not as it is, but 
as he thinte it should be. 



112 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

X 

But neither must you be extreme to mark amiss 
some note not in the mode, for your Island singer 
has a fancy for the Tierce de Picardie — for bringing 
in the major third where the minor would be looked 
for. . . . "That tune doesn't stay in any mode for 
three bars running!" said Louis C. Elson when I 
sang him Nuair is Mi learn Fkm (p. 236). There 
is often, again, a flat seventh which, if the tune were 
noted in the major, as would seem to be its tonality, 
would have to be marked by an accidental. For ex- 
ample, the Child-Rimes, on pp. 57, 58, and 60. As 
they stand there, they are Hypophrygian — founded 
on the octave of G,^ using only the white notes of the 
piano. There is something to be said, I think, 
for the accidental as emphasizing, to the eye, the 
strangeness of the interval. 

Again, there are major tunes where the flat sev- 
enth occurs as a variant, as in the "immutable sys- 
tem" of the Greeks : 



^^^^^^m 



For an instance : 

M. M. J=76. Bold and lively. 



^ 



i^^^^^E^^^^^ 



^^ 



Slin gu'n till na Gaidheil - ghas - da ! 

* Transposed. 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 



113 



l§. 



Sa?= 



5^^E 



S: 



^- 



Dh'fhal[a]bh Di-mairt air siil - do Ghlas - cu; 



i 



ife=i 



S' LA. 



Leis a' bh&t - a dhion - ach sgairt - eil, 



I 



E^E 



iE 



-•—=-- 



Laid - ir ac - fhuinn-each gu strith. 

Safe sailing to the handsome Gaels, 
Off to Glasgow on the Tuesday, 
With the safe and lively boat 
Stout and strong for striving. 

This weird air would be Hypodorian but for the 

M. M. J=76. In a mournful croon. 



* 



ar^s^^Efef 



m 



m^=^=^ 



$ 



'Smi am shuidh - e 'n so - m'on - ar, Air - 



tgE^ 



:Ete 



z^ 



comh-nard an - rathad;Dh'feuchau f aic - mi - fear 

^ - "■ - -^— A — I — 



^ 



^ 



T 



f u - id - an, Tigh'nn o Cru- ach- an a' che-6th - aich. 



U4 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



I am sitting my lone 

At the side of the road, 

When I saw (sic) the wretch coming 

From Cruachan the misty. 

This, while without accidentals, is, like many an-, 
other, quite vague in tonality: 

M, M. J=88. Playfully, and as though in time to a spin* 
ning-wheel. 



i 



^ 



f^^\>t / \-^ 



mf 



hu 



bo, 



mo ui'n - ag! 



* 



^ ^j j^ - t^ 



^ 



=^^ 



-N— N 



hu- a ho, mo ni'n - ag ! A hu a ho, mo 



i 



"m^ 



^ 



^m 



SlEfE 



-^-'=1- 



^ 



ni'n - agl Ciod e - ni mi mur fhaighmi thu? 

A hu-a-ho, my lassie ! 

What to do, if not to get thee ^ 

While for jumping from one key to another with- 
out so much as a beg-pardon, commend me to the 
Port-a-Beoil on p. 171. 



XI 



Skill in the Old Modes, then; an open mind to- 
wards accidentals; quickness at the up-take of 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 115 

rhythm, — having these, what's to hinder one from 
giving out the tune as he gets it? 

Nothing, one might suppose. And were the col- 
lector Highland-born and of the people, so much the 
better surely; for thereby good store of songs were 
his, and that folky way of singing them whereof 
the alien must possess himself — and that not easily 
— before he sets them down. Song, rann, old-word, 
and bardic phrase — the child of the black house 
"takes them in with the peat-reek," as I heard a Glen- 
garry man put it. 

And yet, for very nearness, he is somewhat like to 
hold them — or their homeliness at least — less dear. 

How vexed she was, the grey-eyed girl, one night 
when Father Allan and I went home with her to 
ceilidh in her mother's house and would not have 
the lamp lit, to spoil the ruddy flicker on the faces 
round the fire, to drive the shadows out of the cor- 
ners and the cabars. . . . "It's no better than sitting 
in a cave!" I heard her grumbling. 

Let one of a like temper turn collector, and plenty 
shall he find to change, plenty to leave out ; nor will 
he have to do with all sorts either. Said one (and of 
whom I'd thought better), hearing rumour of a prize 
to be offered at the Mod for Port-a-Beoil, "They'll 
be giving prizes for snapping our fingers next!" 

But not for him nor for his like am I concerned to 
speak; certainly not for the collector Highland-born, 
but with perspective, — would that his sort were in- 



n6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

creasing! I speak but for the alien — one with 
maybe a drop of the Highland blood in her. For 
such an one, to waylay the tune the first time it goes 
past is not so easy as it might be. 

Yet to halt your singer, to turn him back, to make 
him in any way self-conscious, is enough to throw 
him off his way altogether. Having come by it with 
little thought, so soon as he begins to think, he will 
leave out something, put in something, take die high 
turn instead of the low, or the other way round, nor 
know he does it. Nor shall you help him out by tell- 
ing him he didn't do it that way before. . . . 

"Instinct right, reflection wrong, 
When you get a man to sing a song," 

Father Allan used to say. 

I was in luck, then, to be under the same roof as 
one of my best singers, and she always lilting at her 
work some one or another of the sixty-odd she was 
in train of giving me; what time, when she didn't 
know she was doing it that tuay, I was always listen- 
ing, always picking up another and another wee 
note to enrich what was already on paper. 

To prove these by singing to my singer, I would 
first let a little time go by. What with this, and 
with hearing of others meanwhile to drive the first 
ones out of mind, I could be fairly sure, when read- 
ing from my noting, that my memory was not help- 
ing out my tongue. A way that, moreover, some- 
what more to the mind of a "humorous" people 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 117 

(though never so willing), I think, than to be tak- 
ing down the tune afresh. Which would be well 
enough, of course, with a singer well used to dic- 
tating, and most-like a saving of one's face. But unto 
the Edge of the World had come as yet, in my time 
there, little rumour of singing for any use than for 
the singer's own good pleasure. Now, to be seeing 
before himself the job he thought was behind him, 
is a thing to please neither Sasunnach nor Celt. And 
what else would you call it, to be asked to give out 
the same tune two days running^ 

While to sing it himself on the one day, and on 
the other to have the chance of seeing whether or no 
the stranger was giving it out as she got it; to hear it, 
moreover, all set off with chords on the clarsach, or 
— ^^better still — with what the grey-eyed girl was call- 
ing "the wee notes (tremolo)," — what could be 
more entertaining? "Isn't it nice!" the girl would 
cry, when she heard played on the harmonium the 
tune she had been singing: "I didn't know it was so 
nice!" 

Furthermore: if when taking down you ask your 
singer, "Is it so?" "Och, yes!" he will answer you 
gently; thinking all the while to himself. It will not 
be just his own way, to be sure, but no doubt it will 
be as good a way, whatever. 

But when you are taking the tune and the floor 
to yourself, if you have not the former just as he has, 



ii8 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

all his manners will not hinder him from looking a 
bit doubtful. 

XII 

Just here might be coming in the question of one's 
own manners. 

"Aithne bhliadhna aig fear na-h-aoin oidhche — a 
year's knowledge entirely at the man of the one 
night," do I hear someone say? Well, — I've an- 
other old-word for him, "Thig n uair nach tig n 
aimsir — there will come in an hour what will not 
come in an age." 

And why, for fear of old-words, should I forbear 
to further, if I may, the work Father Allan had at 
heart? It is little of that, at the most, I may hope 
with my own hands to do. Others will come to it, 
I trust, and haply aliens like myself; so bound to be 
coming and going as the sea- ware; yet standing, be- 
cause of their errand, in need of such insights as 
come but of long sojourning. Alas, that these shall 
find no Father Allan there to help them out as he 
helped me ! 

Time was and he himself was a new-comer in the 
Isles, and glad to take counsel, Highland-bom 
though he was, of one who had been there long be- 
fore him. "There are two kinds of priests that don't 
get on well with the Islesmen," this one warned him; 
"those who make themselves too friendly, and those 
who don't make themselves friendly enough." 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 119 

And this is a hint for the layman, in search of 
song or sgeul or Celtic Gloom as may be. 

Of the two kinds, those who make themselves too 
friendly would, I fancy, be the more. These, then, 
might bear in mind to their own furtherance the tra- 
ditions of the clan — how, in the old days, each one 
had his place. And these persist. Therefore, you 
shall not recommend yourself by letting yourself 
down, in speech, in manners, nor in dress; as who 
should consider his best were too good for his com- 
pany. Anent this last, I had my lesson on my second 
Sunday, when I took the notion to go to the Mass 
bare-headed ; having marked, on the Sunday before, 
that the women all went either so or in their shawls. 

"Eriskay is no place for hats," Father Allan had 
warned me at Dalibrog. However, I had come in 
one highly approved by the grey-eyed girl. . . . 
"It's such a respectable hat !" So covered, I received 
(as I have to be telling later) my first thrill from 
the music at the Mass. But the next Sunday morn- 
ing, when I came down arrayed for church-going, I 
left up-stairs not only my hat, but, as I was soon to 
learn, in some sort my respectability as well. 

I felt the. girl's eye on me while we waited in the 
kitchen for the bell to be done ringing-in, but she 
said nothing until I stood up. Then, "You're not 
going to wear your hat?" 

I told her what I had in mind. 



120 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"I think you should^' she declared. "You see, — 
you're a lady." 

No compliment intended. Merely a statement of 
my degree, and of what became it. 



XIII 

Those who do not make themselves friendly 
enough are maybe not so many. But while one may 
hold one's self not over-high — ^nor even high enough 
— as "lady," or whatever, one may as musician. 
Let your singer be knowing what you are about, 
then; there's no better way of ridding yourself of 
bids na BeurP ^ (taste of the English) in your own 
giving-out. While a laugh now and then at your 
expense (you laughing first yourself, of course) will 
make you and your singer friends as nothing else 
will. 

This helped me more than once to a sett of the 
words that were in Father Allan's note-book. 

Since he had written them down, the people who 
had sung them were in great part dispersed; some 
were dead, some gone away, some — ^like old Cairstinn 
in Uist, who had been a famous singer — too old to 
give out now the tune as they in their young days 
had got it. . . . "If only you had heard her twenty 
years ago!" Cairstinn's step-son lamented; "she 
would have made you weep, and you could have 

^Plas na Pale. 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 121 

heard her a mile." But now her tunes were weath- 
ered down all to the one tune — had lost the caoin 
(edge), as the people say. And the worst of it was 
that, as she somewhat proudly claimed herself, 
no else had them any more. A robust cailleach, 
Cairstinn ; when I first met her she was coming from 
the herding, a sickle in her hand, a bundle of grass 
in her oxter, and she turned of eighty. And not for 
the best song in Innse-Gaill would I forgo the mem- 
ory of the evening in her black house at Kilphedir.^ 
When we had conversed for a little, "Well, Miss 
Murray! I'm sure you didn't come just to sit," said 
her step-son, smiling. A "good boy," the nuns called 
him, turned of thirty though he was but a bachelor 
still. And a good host he was surely. "I know as 
well as anybody what other people would like in a 
house," he said, by way of apology for theirs; but 
in his genial face, set off with fair hair and a broad 
beard that grew curling, there was no embarrass- 
ment. ... "I know you didn't come to sit," he 
said; and soon I was doing my best, between fire- 
light and the glimmer of the little tin lamp stuck up 
against the partition, to set down a tune that had 
lost its edge indeed. My Grief ! . . . "If you have 
the Second Sight, you'll need it now," laughed the 
young man, and I peering at my paper . . . and 
something extra in the way of hearing would not 
have been amiss. . . . 

' Kil-feet-er. 



122 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Many the good hour I had in such another house, 
both first and last, and counted them well wasted. 
But one does not fill one's music-book that way. 

The best way is to get the tunes from the young 
people, providing these have learned them from the 
generation before, and not from girls that have been 
to the Mod. A girl gets them from her mother while 
the elder has still the heart and wind for the high 
notes and the twists and turns. When her strength 
fails, you'll find her "makin' it easy for herself," as 
she says; while her daughter will give you the tune 
as she herself would were she young again. 

Such a daughter is not always to hand. You must 
take the tune, then, where and in what way you can 
get it. 

XIV 

And it's something of an ordeal, let me tell you, 
for even the best-voiced among them to give it you. 
Not but that they carry it off well enough; the 
women, their hands folded in their laps, sitting so 
composed and smiling; the gillean, when they come 
in, putting forth with such good grace their brown 
hands, broad and hard from rowing, that one would 
never suspect the cause of their cold clamminess. 
. . . Would that be from their sitting in the boats 
all night? I was simple enough to be asking Father 
Allan; who replied, in some surprise, he had never 
noticed it. . . . 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 123 

None but a well-considered singer will dream of 
lifting his voice before company, unless under cover 
of a chorus. I saw a fine manly young fellow go 
quite white, one night at Bun-a'-Mhuilinn, and his 
eyes were piteous as he looked at his mother and 
round at his neighbours, while she held forth at him 
eloquently — to what purpose I did not divine in 
time to save him. For at last most ruefully he raised 
a tune no one else had "the right way of." . . . 
"He never would have done it, only for my mother 
just makirC him!" declared the grey-eyed girl, his 
sister, on our way back to Rudha Ban that night. 

But a chorus soon comes together in a black 
house, once singing is to the fore. How else could it 
be, with the door standing back against the wall 
most times, and neighbours so handy? There were 
but three of us one night when I started in to get the 
sett of a certain Oran d Phiuthair ^ — Song of the 
Sister — that was in Father Allan's note-book; the 
bean-an-tighe, brown-eyed, baking bannocks against 
the mom's mom, when some girls were going off to 
the fisheries at Yarmouth; the woman who was to 
sing, and I. "I don't know how much of a singer 
she is," Father Allan had said doubtfully. But no 
one else in all the island had the tune. And now, 
the night before I was to go, she had just got back 
from the Shetlands. 

'6r-an a Fyu-ar. 



124 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

The song had words to take the fancy — a dead 
sister warning the living one in a dream : 

"Sister dear, are you sleeping? — you were better to be 
waking. 

When you rise in the morn, your great cow-byre will be 
flaming, and your man lying dead on your bed. 

The brother we had in Ireland was put on the stakes ^ 
yesterday. 

I was there and they not seeing. 

A while a-foot, a while a-horse-back, a while in the mist, 
and I not seen. 

Isn't it a pity of me that I lie straiked, and not the 
strength in me to comb my head? 

It's my time to be going back to the Great Place of the 
wide floor, and the men laid out in it one by one." 

This is "stronger in the Gaelic." The tune, too, 
set out well enough with 

M. M. J=60. Plaintively. 



l;eEjE^^_^E^i^££ 



^E5ES5 



mf -•-• 

Then the notes began to go sometimes more flat, 
sometimes less: at the end the voice tailed off into 
speaking. How should I be singing them myself — 
as in imitation, or as in correction? Either held the 
germ of offence. Yet here I was expected not only 
to get something, but to give it out again. . . . 
What then to do? . . . While I, looking hard at my 
notes, turned this over in my mind, the room filled 
up without a sound. Men, women, and children 
were everywhere when I looked up. 

^They carry the coffin on stakes in the Isles. 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 125 

Now, to sing for Highlanders or Islesfolk — or 
Lowlanders either — is a pleasant thing. I've seen 
me at a quarry-man's in Ballachulish,^ after Don- 
ald's working-day was over, sitting first with him 
beside me, touching elbows at the table, and a book 
of Gaelic songs before us; I singing and he "learn- 
ing" me. ... "I want ye to get it juist proaper" 
he wouid say when he had to correct me, touching 
gently the back of my hand with his big finger, 
smooth from working in the slates. . . . When the 
lesson was over, Mary, his wife, would ask. Would 
I mind if a few of them were coming in? 

"No, indeed!" I would answer; when the door 
would open, and they'd fill the place. Then Mary 
would let down the window at the top, that those 
who could not get inside might hear; I'd see them 
standing there in the rain for an hour or more. 

I had not much of the Gaelic those days. In the 
mornings, I'd go up along the brae-side, over against 
Loch Leven, and sit down amongst the heather, to 
be practising what I was "learned" the night be- 
fore. One time I was repeating laoigh — a test-word 
(it's well-nigh impossible to put the sound of it on 
paper) — pretty loudly . . . when I heard a step 
behind me. . . . 

I must say that I felt a bit foolish. But when I 
looked round, why, — it was nothing but a sheep. 

So, then, it would be "English" songs I sang them, 

*Bal-a h6o-lish. 



126 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

as they said. ... It used to sound a little oddly to 
me when in Skye at weddings, someone would get up 
and say, "Miss Murray will oblige us with an Eng- 
lish song," — for what I'd sing them would be Charlie 
is my Darling, or, The Crook and Plaid, and such- 
like. 

Well ! — those were good and pleasant days. But 
to be set up, as now, before a roomful, to catch what 
is not to be caught — and you with a bit of the High- 
land pride to your own share — is altogether other- 
wise. My voice was hardly free from "English 
trilling" (that's another story still to tell) when I 
raised it at last. . . . 

Well, — anyhow I did my best; and when I got 
all tangled up in my 0-hill-i-kos, for nervousness I 
burst out laughing. . . . That was all they were 
waiting for. . . . 

Now, what breaks the ice like a good laugh to- 
gether? The laugh was on me, moreover. So, after 
that, all friends as we were, and all helping me, I got 
the tune after all. And when the woman, seeing me 
to the door on Rudha Ban that night, said, "I'm no 
singer," it was with a smile. 

XV 

That night I had gone down alone, for a wonder. 
Some girls going off the next day, Father Allan was 
hearing their confessions. Only for that, he had 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 127 

been at hand : seldom would he fail at such a time. 
But not to sing himself: "I haven't the folk-song 
sound in my voice," he would say. "I didn't leam 
the songs when I was young, and now I can't make 
them folky." But many the folky turn and twist 
my songs would be the poorer for but for the quick- 
ness of his ear, and many the note that would have 
slipped by me but for him. Nor was that the sum 
of his helpfulness. One may, of course, set down 
the tune without the words; but never so fully, to 
my way of thinking, for want of the delicate syl- 
lables to guide the ear. Here Father Allan spared 
me thought and time, and guesswork too. 

Now and then it enhanced that, in his eagerness to 
help, he hindered. To my shame I confess that at 
such times I'd almost be wishing that "Father Dor- 
nin" had come in his own stead. His grace might 
have sufBced for him — so did not always mine for me 
, . . But Father Allan always understood. 

Did he ever feel cross? I asked him once, after 
a trying sitting. 

Of course he did ! he answered heartily. 

XVI 

So, as seen, it would sometimes take the time of 
three to get one of these songs set down. 

Well, — and what are you going to do with them? 
I am asked; there being those who reckon all folk- 



128 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

material going to waste unless in one way or an- 
other worked up. 

Now again there are others who see no such great 
necessity; who think it would go hard with any 
seannachcddh (story-teller) to better the telling of 
the Story of Deirdre by Iain, the brother of Angus, 
as set down by Carmichael ; who like their Highland 
music as the Highlander prefers to take his whisky 
• — mar a tha e (as it is). Not but that the songs 
sound well — and even grandly — ^harmonised for 
four-part singing. . . . 

And yet — to get a man out of his own old way 
of it, is that to save the song? To make but a 
Sasunnach holiday, is the song to be — shall we say 
kept alive*? 

XVI 

In 1901, I sang for Sir A. C. Mackenzie some airs 
I had picked up a little while before in Skye. 

"What accompaniment are you going to give 
themi" he inquired. 

"None, I think." 

"That's a mistake," said he. "My ear, as I listen, 
supplies the harmony. But you won't find them 
making much of an effect generally unless you give 
them some sort of a background." 

So I got me my darsach, my little harp of twenty- 
eight strings, that is like Queen Mary's at the Royal 
Antiquarian Society's; and have kept to this, and to 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 129 

such chords and figuration as the diatonic scale ad- 
mits. 

Now, as for singing these songs to the piano: if 
any Highlander who wearies of his music mar a tha e 
has the notion that "a few simple chords," struck 
heavy-handed, are any enhancement of it, let him be 
making these up for himself. For the alien artist 
there are collections in which the home-spun melo- 
dies, arranged to well-contrived accompaniments, 
take on a gentility that sets them no ways ill — I'll 
say that much for them. If I feel them thereby in 
some measure robbed, as in some measure gifted, 
that's not to grudge any other one his pleasure in 
them. 

But . . . why put the songs in reach of all and 
sundry, and not one in a thousand with the folk- 
song sound in his voice? I say, leave them for the 
people. 

And in no sort do these so differ from the singer 
schooled as in the show they make of their own feel- 
ing. Your Island treble will pipe you, 

"You took the moon from me; 
You took the sun from me ; 

You took the sky and the East and the West from me ; 
You took the heart was in my side ; 
And great's my fear you'll take my God from me," 

as though she were the robin in the April dawn, — so 
sweetly wild, so fresh, so well-nigh sexless the sound 
of her singing. 



130 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Nor was it otherwise — ^unless for a quality of 
weirdness — with the voice of Ruaraidh's wife — the 
deepest-pitched of any woman's I have ever listened 
to. . . . "She has her oivn voice," said the grey- 
eyed girl, when I had praised it to her; she coming 
herself from Biin-d -Mhuilinn, where the fancy is 
for warbling high and shrilly. . . . Nor again with 
Gilleaspuig's beautiful wood-wind bass, quite per- 
fectly produced in Father Allan's kitchen; though in 
his boat, with all the Kyles before him, some tones 
got away from him a bit. Not these, nor any High- 
land singers ever I heard (off the platform), put 
much of themselves into the song. 

But all the more for that the folk-song spell was 
in it; the spell that in the narrow compass and rude 
forms of our ancestral song abides for us — can lay 
bare, in the deeper layers of our selves, the marks of 
old ancestral tides long since ebbed out — can bring 
to the edge of recollection what was by-gone long 
before our day — can waken the nameless and num- 
berless memories of our race. 

At its command, the ghosts of our dead forbears' 
passions rise and walk within us, to show us no 
ways wiser nor more wary than themselves, — caught 
fast, for all our cleverness, in the same coils as they. 

But only put a little "style" into it . . . and 
away go spell and all like ghosts at cOck-crow. 

The people know this. "I don't like that English 
trilling in the voice, — do you. Miss Murray?" asked 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 131 

of me a girl from Eigg, who sang beautifully in the 
folky way. "I like it in the English," she added po- 
litely, "but I think the Gaelic should be sung just 
plain." ^ 

Which is just what the trained singer, wanting the 
folk-song sense, won't do. The better the singing, 
the better for the song, he argues; and once it would 
have ill become me — ^prize-winner at the Mod my- 
self — to gainsay him. Once it was, and until I came 
to the True Edge of the Great World, that I mis- 
trusted nough amiss with me. 

But there where the in-dweller has The Sight of 
things unseen, the stranger's inner vision, and his in- 
ner ear as well, are like to be in some way sharpened. 
I was not long in Father Allan's Island but I was 
hearing what should not be in my own voice, and in 
the voices of the people something not to be attained 
by English trilling. 

Wholly now to match my way to theirs could 
hardly be. For into the trained voice raised before a 
roomful will aye come the sound of self and of 

'■To be sure, when she gave me Flora MacDonald's Song, she 
said, "My aunt [who had taught it her] told me, 'Now, Morag! — 
see that you sing that with expression.' . . . She wanted me to 
make it just powerful," she explained. . . . However, that's an- 
other thing from English trilling. 

As to what they think of this latter, Father Allan had it from 
one of his own men he chanced to fall in with, coming out from a 
concert in Oban. The principal singer had sung "with expression," 
and a strong vibrato, a Highland song. "And how did you like 
it?" asked Father Allan. 

"I think it would be ferry hard on her chest," answered the 
other cautiously. 



132 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

sophistication, and of something extra to the con- 
tent of the song. 

Best of all, then, I like to be crooning them over 
and over not for others' hearing, but as though I 
were one of my own far-back forbears in the High- 
lands lilting at her wheel. 

XVIII 

Who, then, shall such a collection be serving, — 
the composer"? 

Time has yet to hatch out one who is Highland as 
Grieg is Norse, Mussorgsky Slav, and Liszt Mag- 
yar. From Saga days to these, the genius of the 
Highland Gael has served mainly to quicken the 
genius of the Stranger. But is this so to be, world 
without end? Does there not inhere in Highland 
song, over and above that ancient universal quality 
that so "reminds" us, some quality recognizably 
apart from that of Ireland's even — distinct and dis- 
tinguishable as that of the Norseman, the Slav, or 
the Magyar"? I think to single out the makings of 
a master in it. Would that he had come in Father 
Allan's time ! He had had a better welcome to his 
island than Prince Charlie's was. 

When he shall come at last, I trust there may be 
something for him between the covers that I filled, 
and in many another book to be set down by other 
hands than mine. 



"FATHER DORNIN" AT WORK 133 

Whether he shall build on themes that he shall 
take outright, that is of course for him to say. 

But I incline to think that he shall come to his 
own folk-song rather as to a spring for his refresh- 
ment than as to a quarry for his blocks. 

The best that we can do for him, then, is to see 
such springs kept running clear. 

Just suppose that those old ancient African images 
we're seeing lately had been tinkered to make them 
more seemly before we had sight of them ! . . . 

But not unto the end of music-making was it that 
Father Allan so desired to see the songs set down, as 
that the home-keeping Islander might not cease from 
singing in his own old way — every man for himself, 
and no Sasunnach listening; 

That he in time to come might leaf the page and 
say. This is Che way of the tune as my mother was 
singing it under the cow, and my father in the boat, 
and the neighbours round our fire at ceilidh. 



THE "OTHERING" OF THE 
WEATHER 

In such employment, glimpsing all at once the 
sun-down looks outside, Father Allan would jump 
up, saying, "Come, — we'll get a mouthful of air!" 
He catching up his cap and I my breacan, in another 
minute we'd be out; most- whiles going down to 
watch the ebbing of the tide and the sea-gulls forag- 
ing and screaming at its edge. One day we spied a 
pair of young seals playing tag along the shallows 
close in-shore; — "A thing I never saw before," said 
Father Allan. 

Now when it comes to sailing, round the Isles or 
anywhere, I like to chose my day. But set me on 
shore, and there's none so dull nor so shining but 
can please me. So, too, it was with Father Allan. 
I do not recall our out-goings ever ordered by the 
weather, then; we sat in-doors when it was fine, or 
walked abroad when it was smirring, in high wind 
or in low, as Father Allan's humour was for walk- 
ing or for sitting or for smoking — for which last 
there was just one place out-of-doors. Within the 
walled croft to the west of the house, on an old 
waulking-board raised on rocks, back to wind and 

134 



THE "OTHERING" OF THE WEATHER 13^ 

face to sun, we would sometimes be sitting for an 
hour after dinner — "where the wind won't smoke 
my pipe for me." 

Time again, we sped before the wind from the 
wall to the edge of the foreland, or struggled back 
against it with a will as good ; or paced a sheltered 
strip at the mouth-side of the chapel. And from 
thence I've seen a sail-boat tacking on the Kyles be- 
low for a good hour, to make the harbour. Showers 
would sweep northwards between us and Beann 
Sgrithean and never wet us ; would sometimes leave 
him misty as before, would sometimes strip him, 
streak him down with glittering runlets; here and 
there a boulder sending back a flash as from a shield. 

A grey and lonesome-looking thing, the shower 
that passes in the sunshine with itself. Coming in 
at the back gate of the chapel-croft, one warm still 
sunny day I spied it, and stood there between the 
peat-stacks to see it cross the Kyles. 

For a space where its shadow involved them, Uist 
hills scowled inky-black : to either hand the sun lay 
on their length. In its skirts shone a splendid rain- 
bow, and on the water in its wake a stain of green 
that might have spilled down from the bow itself. 
The islet in mid-channel, so soon as the fringes of 
the rainfall cleared it, glowed out in its wetness 
golden-green; and over the hills to the westward the 
shadow of another rain-cloud — sent by a higher 
roadway on another errand — ran like a deer. 



136 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"It's a queer day we don't see a rainbow," I re» 
member Father Allan saying. Twice running, we 
saw it by night. 

It was in the week of harvest-moon, a little rainy. 
We were sitting after supper by the fire, while the 
girls were gone out to see a neighbour home, as girls' 
ways are — and men's too^ — in the Isles. . . .When 
suddenly they burst in, breathless, gasping, "Come 
quick — quick !" 

We lost no time in getting out, to see, amidst the 
flying shower and broken moonlight, the wraith of a 
rainbow hanging frost-white, melting as we gazed. 
. . . "We were seeing it down in the harbour," said 
the older of the girls; "and here we were running, 
running ! — ^before it would be gone." 
■ Next night we sat again by firelight, with the rain 
still at the window. It slackened, and we looked 
out. 

The wrack was driving fast across the moon, and 
she, just up from behind the hills of Barra, silvered 
now one edge and then another as it passed her, but 
never showed her face. "She will shine out di- 
rectly," said Father Allan. Leaving the blind up, 
we came back to the fire-side, where he fell to telling 
of old holidays in Spain. I had my little harp be- 
tween my knees ; now and then I fingered it and sang. 

The rain came on suddenly again, beating now at 
the panes with such fury that I played no more, and 
listened poorly while Father Allan, nowise put about, 



THE "OTHERING" OF THE WEATHER 137 

was describing an altar-piece that he had seen. . . . 
I looked to see the streaming glasses driven in at 
any minute . . . when all on a sudden the moon 
broke through them, in a wonderful pale-greenish 
watery dazzle. . . . Without so much as a beg- 
pardon I cried out, "I wonder if there isn't a moon- 
bow!" 

In no time at all we were at the back-door looking 
out. 

The rain still thudded on the roof, though on 
either hand — so narrow was the cloud — outside the 
croft the rocks lay in the moonlight. Peering into 
the shower, we saw nothing more. . . . Then, as 
it drew away, all at once the great white bow sprang 
out against it, so near it arched the croft. 

For a space, so it stood that we might step be- 
neath it. Then, moving away to Northwards slowly, 
it overhung the Kyles at last, so melting out into the 
night. 

A bow of promise to the man beside me, bound as 
he was, and that soon, to the Land of Lasting 
Weather, it might well have been. But — for any- 
thing he said — he thought no more on that than I. 
What with guessing the height and span of it, in- 
deed, with marking the faint stain of seven colours 
down at the right foot of it — recalling how his friend 
in The Adjoining Kingdom, who makes and prints a 
new map of the heavens every year, had said he 
must come to Eriskay to see the moon-bow — declar- 



138 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

ing, "We're giving you a moon-bow every night !" — 
I never saw him merrier. 

The rain was back at his old ploy with the panes 
when I went up, an hour or two later or thereby, and 
the goblin up the chimney puffing like to burst. 
Over Barra hills a new cloud, dense and smoky, 
seemed poured up funnel-shaped as from a crater: 
a livid patch showed where the moon was hid be- 
hind. I wondered, as I pulled down the blind, what 
the weather would be when I raised it. 

Then I set-to on my notes of that day's talk — too 
slight as they were, and too many, to be left till 
morning. 

My candle was guttering when I blew it out at 
last and went to window. And now the moon had 
ridden out of sight : the lift was clear, and swarming 
with cold white stars. Down below in the Baile one 
cheerful earth-star gleamed — the fire-lit doorway of 
a black house, where the neighbours still sat round at 
ceilidh. All else was dusk and dimness, nor any 
sound ascending but the soft "Whist — whisf along 
the shore-rocks and the sands. 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 



"Whafs that?" demanded the grey-eyed girl, sit- 
ting by with her knitting one day that this topic 
came up in our talk. 

"It's something an Englishman's writing about 
us," answered Father Allan. 

"How does he know?" Silence, and she frowning 
down at the needles clicking in her serviceable hands. 
. . . Then, "What does he know about us anyhow?" 

II 

Nowadays I can never catch sight of an arbour 
(nor one of your "pergolas," mind you) but it calls 
me up a waif-word from that Filgrim's Progress, full 
of wood-cuts, that I used to dote upon in early days. 

Early enough, those same days; and how long 
since, I'm not telling. ... I could laugh now to 
think on that monstrous great pack that was tum- 
bling off Christian. Whatever was in it? A Bur- 
den of Sin, said my elders when I asked diem. And 
what's that? thinks I, who as yet had backed sin 
nor sorow either. . . . 

139 



HO FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Well ! — the one I liked the best showed just such 
an arched old-fashioned trellis as I name, overhung 
with a grape-vine. Underneath sat a youth head on 
hand and fast asleep. Underneath again one read, 
"Then he came to an arbour, warm, &c." 

And now I never see an arbour but it minds me 
how that other pleased the child I was. And why? 

It's because of a youth who, in a year not long past 
Charlie's Year (the '45), was picked up by the press- 
gang in the north of The Adjoining Kingdom, and 
taken to fight for King George at Quebec. For it's 
by my likings late and early (and my mis-likings 
too) that I know myself, his great-great-great-great- 
great-great-grand-daughter, to be at heart no less a 
Gael than he. 

Now as for the likings of a Gael : well, it's not for 
a sleep, neither yet for a feasting to follow would 
any I know, in Highlands or in Isles, look for his 
happiness in this world nor the next. Who'd sleep 
in a black house and ceilidh doing"? The day may 
slip into the night and the night in the mouth of the 
morning, nor the fire be smoored, so long as sgeulan 
old or new be to the fore, or songs singing. When 
in the night as I was telling, the wind made as 
though he were harping, and the grey-eyed one asked 
me in the morning. Was I playing? I asked. Did 
she think I would do such a thing, to be waking 
them all? 

"BMtVd like it\" 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 141 

I thought to have a laugh over this with Father 
Allan. 

"But it would be beautiful to be hearing it in the 
night," said he. 

"They'd not think so where I came from." 

"But the day and the night are not so separate 
with us as with you." 



Ill 



Now, I'm no sleepy-head myself — ^most things 
go nowise near so well with me by day as after 
dark. Not so much, then, for what makes the 
young heads nod nor waits on rocking is it that I'd 
fancy sitting in an arbour, as for sake of sitting 
warm, and so it is too with your Islesman. No 
Heaven without a thatch to it for him, and four good 
walls forbye; his own, grey without, black within, 
were well enough, he'd say. While as for the floor- 
ing of it; gold or clay, he cares not, so only there be 
a good fire in the middle and his neighbours round. 
In the house of many mansions, give him, if God 
please, just a black house like his own, "warm, &c." 

I'm wondering that the Kirk should think to scare 
him into Heaven with its threats of Day of Burning. 
The fire, the good peat-fire, the core of his comfort, 
the red heart of his black house, — what terrors has 
the fire for a man who wears the night out in the 
boats? for a woman who's herding from early to 



142 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

black and her head in her shawl for face-ache? 
Those knew them better who preached them an Ill- 
Place of ice and snow. "Go you North and North 
and North," says Michael Scott, when the young 
man in the sgeul comes asking him. Would he be so 
good as to tell him the way to the Place he was 
wanting to go to? 

Michael Scott in an Eriskay sgeul? 

How he got there is more than I can tell you. But 
there he is anyhow, who was riding seven years with 
The One-xoe-won' t-mention. And, "All I know is, 
that the Mouth of Hell is in the North," says he. 
"Go you North and North and North, until you come 
to the True Edge of the Great World." 



IV 



Now I was chilly as a child, and like the fire- 
end still. So inuch for so much. Something further 
than a fancy for sitting warm, or underneath the 
vine when grapes are ripe, was in me out of long 
ago, I'll say, for that old picture in the Pilgrim's 
Progress to be taking hold on. For it's what one's 
wanting that he's wishing mostly, and no want 
there was of fruiting nor of firing in the plenteous 
land where I was young. 

Yet your Islesman's Happy Otherworld's no Land 
of Goshen : milk nor honey, I'll be bound, are flow- 
ing in his dreams of it, so little as he's blest with 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 143 

either here. "Which were better with you," asks the 
Cculleach in Father Allan's folk-play, "a drawing 
at food, or a drawing at music and pleasure in the 
beginning?" And the Bodach's answer, "The choice 
of the Highlander for me!" needs never a gloss for 
the Gael. 

I fancy a proper ceilidh comes near to his notion 
of Heaven as any. "We have seen some poor crea- 
tures of them," says the Reverend Robert Reid of 
Aberfoyle, "chattering their teeth for cold, that how 
soon they heard the harp, or saw the fire, leapt 
thorow the hall like goats or satyrs." Yes, the harp 
and the fire must be in it — ^but what more he knows 
not, oh, he knows not (if I know him) ! Nor indeed 
would he thank the one who'd tell him. 

For it's not what's told nor written down that 
glamours him — it's aye the ampersand that's in it. 

What sets him to dreaming? what stirs him to 
roving? 

The thing that's un-said, and the want he's no 
word for. The "and-so-forthness" of what's to 
follow. 

Not warm alone, then, must the Isleman's 
Heaven be, but "warm, &c." And I'm much of that 
same mind myself. 



I hope to see no Celtic Gloom where I'll be going, 
anyhow. . . . Maybe I've helped that notion on a 



144 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

bit myself — we all do, more or less, who have to do 
with Celtic songs. For of these, I grant you, good 
few of the sweetest are saddest. You can't leave out 
the cronan (lullabies), you see, and your singer with 
maybe her twelfth at her breast. Small fears of 
cronan dying out in Innse-Gaill, for want of weans 
to cuddle. But a thousand years of fire and sword 
have gloomed them. For how could the heart of 
a fighting-man's wife, though never so stout for 
speeding him when Fiery Cross came round impera- 
tive, how could it, I say, but take the low-road after 
him? — in the mist, in the night, under sunshine or 
star-shine, how could it but follow? And she at 
the lonesome fire end far behind, crooning maybe all 
he'd left her, how should she be merry? 

And if there's no more Fiery Cross in these days, 
still and aye there is the sea, and wives' hearts still 
go seeking in the night outby, and wandering on the 
wave. Little wonder that croons in the Isles are 
like the tunes the wind is whining in the night-time 
when the boats are out. 

Oh, it's all very well for a mother in Gartan to lilt 
of the hearth-stone and the cricket, with Himself 
delving safe on the next bog! But in Innse- 
Gaill it's 

"Ho-ba, mo leannaibh,^ ko-ba, ho-ba, 
Till the men come again that went sailing." 

* L4nn-av — darling. 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 



145 



But once he's a-foot, his mother'll set the 
leannaibh, in his little Shirt of Christ (that's all his 
wear until he's two), upon her knee, and dandle 
him to 

M. M. J=106. Brisk and lively, as fast as one can trot a 
child on the knee. 



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a tempo. 

bdidh - each thuT^ os an fheann - ag. 

" 'Little rough black one, essence of my soul and body 1' 
says the hoodie-crow." 

" 'Little rough black one : Donald, how fair art thou 1' 
says the hoodie-crow." 

And you'll see the leannaibh saving up his laugh 
for "Domhnuill, gur boidheach thul" — that's made 
to sound as like the crow as can be. 



146 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



VI 

Love-songs, now: there's plenty of sadness in 
them the world over. But what's to prove by that? 
When I was a girl, we were all of us singing, "In 
the Gloaming, O My Darling"; yet I'm sure I, at 
least, was light-hearted enough. 

Would you call these young people pious, then, 
for their saying "My Gawd'"? Why impeach a 
Highland girl, then, of The Gloom, for her "Mo 
Thruagh — My Grief" ? . . . I've noticed that Fiona 
MacLeod does. . . . And why not, then, of worse, 
for her "Mo Chreach— My Ruin?" 

When RoccABARRA rises (not to tell that twice, 
I'll trouble you to read ahead, p. 229), and some 
red-head comes our way "collecting," most like he'll 
be putting The Gloom on us here in Manhattan for 
"The Rosary," or such-like. 

Well, — there's plenty songs in Innse-Gcdll, be- 
sides the love-songs, that I won't be calling merry. 
Here's one of them : 

M. M. J=84. Mournfully, 






S^ 



Gur a dium - bach mi- m'phiuth- air-, Nigh-ean 



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donn an - fhailt'-chliuth-aich, 'Nuair a chtir thu mo 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 



H7 



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E ^ trt^ 



w^ 



braith-rean Gu - kit - idh 



na spreidh-e 



"How's my sister betrayed me ! 
Brown maid so deceitful, 
When my brethren you guided 
To the fold of the cattle." 

"There was a girl, and a young man was in love 
with her, and her brothers weren't wanting him to 
marry her. So she was out at a shelling, — ^you 
know^ — and the young man would go to see her 
there, — ^fine she knew when he would be coming! 
Well, — ^he was coming one evening, and she was tell- 
ing her sister, and her sister was just gettin' it all 
out of her, the way she would be telling her broth- 
ers — do you see? I think she would be a queer 
sister. . . . Well, — ^her brothers knew when he was 
coming, and here they were watching for him — oh, 
it's quiie true! — and they caught hold of him and 
they killed him. . . . It's a good job that laws 
came out. Many the life it's saved. . . . It's queer 
the way things would be in olden times — they didn't 
care a bit about lives." 

Thus, the grey-eyed girl that sang the song for me. 

Here's the lament of another sister, for her 
brother who was drowned: 



148 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

M. M. J=92. Steadily, with a mournful monotony. 



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Leader: Hu or a hu o Cho. Ha ra ho i ho - i o 



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Hu or a hu o Lead.Gur tha mis-e fo mbul-aid. 



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Air an 



tul - aich 



lu - aim 



fhu - air. 



Cha direach mi bruthach, 
Cha siubhail mi buan. 

Cha siubhail min-t-achadh, 
Na machaire cruaidh. 

Cha'n e cumhadh mo leannan, 
Th'oran ged a dh'fhanadh e bhuan. 

Ach cumhadh mo bhrathair 
Cul fainneach nan dual. 

Tha do leaba gun doigh oirr, 
Anns an-t-seomar ud suas. 

Cha teid mi ga caradh, 

'S tu ghraidh cho fad bhuam. 

'S oil learn diol do chiiil riomhaich 
Bhith fo mheinn aig a stuaidh. 

Cha 'n eil bat' thig o'n nidha 

Nach struthadh le'm ghruaidh. 

Hu-or-a-hu-o, etc. 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 149 

No long thig o'n Chaolas 
Nach ciochal mo shunadh. 
Hu-or-a-hu-o, etc. 

Tha do phrensan nan chistibh; 
Ni nach misde mi bhuam. 
Hu-or-a-hu-o, etc. 

'S tu lamhainn an-t-sioda, 
Gu misdeach a ghuail. 
Hu-or-a-hu-o, etc. 

Sad indeed am I and sorry, 
On the lone and chilly hill. 

I'm not climbing on the brae, 
I'm not going to the reaping; 

I'm not walking in the field, 
I'm not straying on the machair. 

I'm not sorrowing for my lover 
Even were he staying from me; 

I am sorrowing for my brother, 
With the locks of curling hair. 

Comfortless thy bed to-night 
In thy chamber there below. 

It's not I was at its spreading. 
Dear; and I so far from thee. 

I'm grieving that thy bonnie locks 
Should be fondled by the waves ; 

For the ringlets of thy head. 

And the wild foam waulking them. 

There'll no boat come round the point, 
But will waste my cheek; 



150 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

There'll no ship come through the Kyles, 
But will kill the joy in me. 

I've your presents in my chest; 
The silken gloves you gave to me; 

I'll not deck myself with them. 
Truly am I in my searing.^ 

This is a waulking-song, but not much in favour 
with the women for such use, it being, as they put it, 
too heavy. It was perhaps improvised as the others 
worked. They are quite amongst themselves in the 
townlands, and no one would think it shame to 
mourn thus openly before her neighbours. 

Another such — lament and waulking-song in one 
— is, "A song by the daughter of the Man of Scal- 
pa (an Island off Harris). She loved a man who 
was drowned in the Sound of Harris. She died, and 
her brothers took her in a boat across the Sound to 
be buried. A great storm came on. The brothers 
were talking about drawing lots to see who would 
be thrown out to lighten the boat. But one said 
that should not be while the dead were on board. 
The cofBn was put into the water just where Ailein 
was drowned. A mermaid rose a little way off, and 
looked at them, and the storm went down. This 
was in 1751." I copied this, if I remember rightly, 
from Father Allan's Sinclair's Orainiche. But I got 
the tune from Bean Iain 'ic Iain Mhoir — the 
widow of Iain son of Big Iain, in Eriskay. 

^ Or "charring." Father Allan named this as a common trope of 
grief. 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 

M. M. J=92, Wildly and mournfully. 



151 






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Leader: Ail-ein duinn, o hi shiubh-lainnleat.CKo.Hl ri 



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Leader: Gur-a 



mis - e th'air mo ■ 



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sug - radh ^ 'nochd air - m'air - e. Ail -ein 

Cha'n e sugradh, etc. 

Ach stoirm nan sianta 's meud na gaillinn. 

Ach stoirm, etc. 
Dk'fhuadaicheadh na fir o'n chala. 

Dh'fhuadaicheadh, etc. 

Ailein duinn, a luaidh no ^ leannan. 

Ailein duinn, etc. 

Chuala mi gu'n deach' thu thairis, 

Chuala mi, etc. 

Air a bhata chaol, dhubh, dharaich; 

*The second line of a couplet is often used as the first line of 
the next. 
'Nan. 



152 s FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Air a bhata, etc. 

'S gun deach thu air tir am Manainn. 

'S gun deach thu, etc. 
Cha b'e sud mo rogha cala. 

Cha b'e sud, etc. 

Ach Caolas stiadair anns na h-Earradh, 

Ach Caolas, etc. 

No Loch Mhiabhag anns na beannaibh; 

Ailein duinn, a laoigh mo cheile, 
Gur-a h-og a thug mi speis dhuit. 

Gur-a h-og, etc. 

'S ann an nochd is bochd mo sgeula, 

'S ann an nochd, etc. 

Cha'n e has e^ckruidh ^s an fheisidh: 

Cha 'n e bos, etc. 

Ach e fhliuchead 's tha do leine; 

Ach e fhliuchead, etc. 

'S muca-mhara 'bhi 'ga d'reubadh. 

'S muca-mhara, etc. 

Ged bu leamsa buaile spreidhe. 

Ged bu leamsa, etc. 

'S ann an nochd bu bheag mo speis di. 

'S ann an nochd, etc. 

'iS mi nach iarradh caochlach ceile. 

'S mi nach, etc. 

'S anns bhi leat air mullach sleibhe. 

Ailein duinn, a chill's a noire, 
Chuala mi gu'n deach' do bhatadh. 

Chuala mi, etc. 

Gur-a truagh nach mi bha lamh riut; 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 153 

Gur-a truagk, etc. 

Ge b'e sgeir no bogh' an traigh thu. 

Ge b'e sgeir, etc, 

Ge b'e tiurr' am fag an Ian thu. 

Ge b'e tiurr', etc. 

Dh'olainn deoch ge Vol le m'chairdibh, 

Dh'blainn deoch, etc. 

Che b'ann a dh'fhion dearg na Spainne. 

Che b'ann, etc. 

Ach a dh'fhuil do chium, 's i b'fhearr learn. 

Ged nach teid, etc. 

M' achanaich-sa, Righ na Cathrach, 

M' achanaich-sa, Righ na Cathrach, 
Gun mi 'dhbl an uir no'n anart; 

Gun mi dhbl, etc. 

'N talamh-toll no'n aite falaich ; 

'N talamh-toll, etc. 

Ach's a'bhall an deach thu, Ailein. 

Ach's a' bhall, etc. 

Gur-a mise th'air mo sgaradh. 

Ailein duinn, o-hi! shiubhlainn leat. 

Brown Ailein, I'd be faring with thee ! 

Truly am I in my rending. No mirth is on my soul 
to-night, but rain-storm and heart of the tempest. 

Brown Ailein, my darling of darlings ! I was hearing 
thou wert on thy way, in the slim black oaken boat, bound 
for the Isle of Man. 

That was never thy port, but the Kyles of Harris, and 
Loch Miavag of the hills. 

Brown Ailein, calf of my love ! How young I set my 
fancy on thee ! My tale is sad to-night. 

It's not cruel death everlasting, but the wetness of thy 
shroud and the sea-pigs tearing thee. 



154 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Though I'll be at the sheilings, it's no heart I'll have for 
it. I'll be taking no other sweetheart — I'd rather the moun- 
tain-top with thee. 

I heard how thou wert drowning — O had I been with 
thee ! — were it on the sand or the shore-rocks. 

Thou'U not be lacking mourning. Were I drinking with 
my neighbours the red wine of Spain itself, I'd rather the 
blood of thy breast. 

My prayer to you, King of the Elements : that I go not 
into earth nor into linen, nor into the grave nor any hiding- 
place, but into the depths where thou wentst, Ailein! 

Bear you in mind the dark and smoky room, the 
thumping and thrashing on the board, the rocking 
and swaying of the women that are waulking, the 
tossing and the whirling of the web, the couplets 
thrown in as outcries between the recurring keen of 
"Ailein duinn, o-hl! shiubhlainn leat," the steady 
drive of the wild monotonous tune, rising higher 
and higher to the end. . . . 

Six bars to the one tune, thirteen to the other, nor 
much of a tune to either, when you play it over on 
the piano. 

Nor again as to the words of it is either song what 
you would call a well-made thing: liie couplets 
strung together anyhow — no end to it, no middle, 
no beginning. . . . 

But only sing it — sing it ! — sing it in the Gaelic. 
Bring in after every verse the shivering "Ailein 
duinn o-hl! shiubhlainn leat" or the "Hu-or-a- 
hH-o" that is like the mournful lowing of a cow, and 
I'll warrant you'll get somewhat for your pains. 



THE CELTIC GLOOM 155 

You'll sense how the mind goes straying here and 
there amongst the various parts of grief, and leaps 
from the one to the other without care for conaposi- 
tion, but aye searches back to the core of it. 

I've seen me on the railway — of all places — ^here 
in my own land, with "business" talking fore and 
aft of me, women gossipping and children fretting, 
and town and country flying past the window, and I 
lilting under my breath, "Ailein duinn o-hi," or, 
"Hu-or-a-hu-o." And underfoot I'd have the Isles 
again, with the sound of the tide in my ears, wash- 
ing in and out amongst the sea-ware and the shells, 
and the feel of the mist in my face. 

Oh, — I suppose I'm as bad as any of them all, for 
picking out the saddest of the songs for my own 
singing ! 

For there's no sort of use in denying it — such-like 
sort better with the Isles themselves than those that 
deal with such brief joys of life as fate and fuaraidh- 
froisde ^ grant the Islesman. 

But the Isles are one thing: the Islesman himself 
is another. So then, to choose out a lament, and 
think to see the singer of it at his length therein 
complete, is as who'd view the world by twilight 
only, when it's neither sunned nor shaded; or by 
moonlight, when all things in some sort change their 
shapes. 

'Fo6-ar-y fraws-ja — ^Winter-storm. 



156 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Now your Islesman, take him altogether, shows up 
well as most by light of common day. 

While whoso shall never have seen him by light of 
the peat-fire at ceilidh, has seen him as never at all. 



CEILIDH 



We might be going down some night? I was 
hinting at the first. But, "You wouldn't want to — 
the people wouldn't be at ease. ... I don't like 
these manufactured ceilidhs" objected Father Allan. 
He had in mind some former visitor's experience. 
But the grey-eyed girl said in my ear apart, "Just 
you wait until Father Allan goes to Dalibrog." 

No sooner was he away, then, than at mouth of 
the night we were taking the path to Bun-d- 
Mhuilinn. And there, in her mother's house, we 
had what she declared to be "a proper ceilidh." 

II 

No one has a bidding to ceilidh, but none shall 
fail of a "Dia bi tiomchioll ^ — God be about you !" 
or the like, though he had a man's head under his 
arm, as the saying is. Aware of this, certain stran- 
gers delay not to enter a black house, night nor day, 
with never a beg-pardon. And so it comes about 
that "English" stands for "mannerless" in Innse- 
Gaill. For me, I would not be making myself more 

*Jee-a be cheem-chal. Ch. guttural. 

157 



158 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

at home there, all at once, than otherwhere; and 
would be taking my best manners with me, and my 
best on my back — I have to thank the grey-eyed girl 
for that last. Nor would I be praising the night to 
them ^ as I came in, for when that chances fine, the 
drowned may come ashore. But only let someone 
be saying, "It's a fine night this!" and back into 
the water they must go. 

And that would be a pity of them surely, when 
there' d be such warming for their poor cold fingers 
at the door-way in the reek. For on this night of 
nights, the bean-an-tighe, to be doing honour to the 
stranger, aye puts on the other peat. 

I think that with one of my own in that sorrow- 
ful clan there out-by, I'd be sorry myself by the fire. 
But the gloom of the reek, thick and brown in the 
comers and cabars, is the only Gloom you'll see. 
Bright eyes and strong white teeth glint round the 
circle; the firelight makes rosy what shows some- 
thing pinched and pale by day. Starving is done 
with dignity, and even gaily, here on the Edge of 
the World. 

By ones, by twos, by threes, or however, they come 
dropping in. At last they ring the fire, or sit along 
the wall, with the old people snug in the warmest 
corner. The bean-an-tighe, though her head is in 
her shawl, smiles on you none the less whenever 

* "iVfl mol oidhche, 'us na bembl lei — Praise not the night, and dis- 
praise not the day." Hebridean saying. 



CEILIDH 159 

you're looking her way. She cards or spins a woolen 
thread: the other women have their knitting. 
Between the fear-an-tighe' s ^ knees he has a pile of 
heather that he twists into a rope: his sons mend 
broken oars or such-like. All the men have their 
little clay pipes: when one wants a light, he will 
pick up a live coal with his bare hand, — a big one, 
broad and hard with rowing, though he'll slip you 
his foot easily into the shoe of a twelve-year-old lad 
in the Lowlands, 

Their names? Macdonalds mostly; a Campbell 
or two, a M'Innes, and an O'Henly whose forbear 
came, with other "seven-score out of every surname 
in O'Cathan's territory" with a noble Irish maid 
brought over long ago to be wife to a Clariranald. 
But amongst themselves they're Gilleaspuig mac, 
lain 'ic Dhomhnuill 'ic Ruaraidh — Archibald son of 
John son of Roderick; or, Bean Chaluinn 'ic Alas- 
dair 'ic Chaluinn 'ic Iain Dhubh — wife of Caluinn 
son of Alexander son of Caluinn son of Black John ; 
or, Mairi Nighean Ruaraidh Ruaidh — Mary Red 
Roderick's daughter; or, simply, — Mary Red Rod- 
erick's Daughter, or, simply, Oighrig Og — Young 
Phemie, or Donnachaidh Beag — Little Duncan. 
And if the former's not so young, neither is the lat- 
ter, then, so little, for it's this way they name them : 
the father has the naming of the first one after his 
own kin, the mother, of the second after hers. If 

* Ferr-an-tl-ya. 



i6o FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

both get the same name, the first is tagged Mor 
(Big) when the other comes, who gets the tag of 
Beag ^ (Little). There may come yet a third, who'll 
take over the "Little," while the little one that was 
will now be Meadhon ^ (Middle-sized) ; though he 
may be biggest of them all when grown, and Beag 
may wax bigger than Mor. Girls are styled in like 
manner. 

Kin mostly, and more or less intermarried. But 
one will favour a Pictish forbear, another a Scottish, 
another a Lochlanner. Their heads are of all colours 
heads can be — ^black, red, flaxen, grey, and brown: 
some folk are tall and big-boned, some are little: 
one shows a fine upright Roman profile, and another 
has, from God knows where, his bright dark eyes 
and heavy brows set slanting over his high cheek- 
bones like a Mongol. Good looks prevail, both 
stem and gentle, and eyes that meet yours fairly 
and friendly. Say what you will against the old 
clan ways: do you know any like them for giving 
a man leave to hold his head up? I saw never but 
one ill-at-ease in a black house, and he was "half- 
eyed (one-eyed)," ashamed of his disfigurement, 
poor chap! and holding up his hand to hide it. 
You'll be wanting your best manners here, to match 
with these old women who have never left their 
island nor beheld a tree. And many of the younger 

^Almost like pek. 
' May-on. 



CEILIDH i6i 

ones were climbing stairs the first time in their lives 
when Father Allan, being ill a-bed, confessed them 
there. When they were coming out, his servant saw 
them sitting at the top, and so sliding down on their 
haunches. 

But, "while you're taking their measure once, 
they're taking yours twice," as Father Allan used to 
say. Sitting douce there amongst them, looking 
rather in the fire than about the room, making your- 
self not all at once too hamely, when you hear the 
talking and the laughing rising higher and higher 
round you, you may reckon yourself as arrived. 



Ill 



Even by the kindly fire-light, the marks of hunger 
are as plain on younger faces as on elder, and a cast 
that bespeaks a people thoughtful and God-fearing, 
in life-long touch with the elements and the Other- 
world as well. You're on the True Edge of that 
here, you'll remember. Wherefore to yonder child 
of twelve or so comes now and again her dead 
mother. The child does not fear her — why should 
she? Other two, half-brothers, had a step-mother, 
a third wife. One of these remembers how she sent 
his brother one wild evening to the hill, to drive the 
cow : he went unwillingly, in tears, because he feared 
to meet the Fuadh. Meanwhile she was bathing 
his sore foot, and scolding him for crying. He heard 



i62 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

a rap at the window, and there was his own mother 
looking in, and at the partition stood the second 
wife, who said, "Tha e a gorach dhuit a bhi roide ri 
m'phasda. Cha bhi thu fadan 'a cheann uile gu hi — 
It is foolish for you to be cross to my child. It's not 
long you'll be over him anyhow." And indeed she 
died soon after. . . . That well-looking man must 
get himself out of the way before his wife will milk 
the cow, he having the Evil Eye. . . . And will you 
notice how that red-haired woman with her hand tied 
up keeps herself to herself over there? 

Last week a neighbour passing saw her house was 
empty and a cat on the road acting queerly. He 
flung a stone at it and hurt a paw. When he came , 
back he looked in again, and there was the woman 
with her hand in a clout. . . . 

That bearded man sees things. They tell how he 
and four others went to fish for flounders in the 
Sound between Eriskay and Barra. "When opposite 
the Baile, this man said to one named Caluinn, 'It 
would be better for you to go ashore.' 

" 'Why so?' 

" 'Because you don't look well.' 

" 'Do you look well yourself?' asked the other 
with some resentment, for it was a time of famine. 
There was no more said, and they went to fish ; and 
after catching some, they landed at Beann Stac, and 
began to roast them on the heather. Caluinn stayed 
in the boat. Those who were cooking went down 



CEILIDH 163 

to the boat with some for him, and he was resting 
on an oar and saying, 'Mo chndh' (my heart) !' 
He never spoke again. A lad was sent by land to 
have something in readiness when die boat should 
reach the houses, but he died that night." 

And here's a young girl was beginning the same 
way. "She saw a vision, so her sister opened and 
shut the Bible before her face, that the wind might 
blow in her eyes. ... 'If it weren't for that, I 
might be as bad as the Red Tailor of Barra!' . . . 
Since then she does not see, but she can hear and 
feel the creak of the stakes, the breath of the 
bearers on her cheek, and their feet stumbling over 
hers on the path of a dark night, when the wraith of 
a funeral-to-be goes by her." 

But thafs nothing out-of-the-way on the Edge of 
the World, where the dead themselves always pick 
out what is wanted for their burying. Or that's the 
way the people put it. Strictly speaking, it would 
seem the hand of Death himself is in it, since the 
warning comes whilst those so marked-out are still 
a-foot. There's a pin for the shroud, say, or a glass 
for the whisky to be served out to the bearers, in a* 
wooden chest against the wall; nor in their own 
house, like as not, but in another's. You'll hear a 
knock within, against the lid, and that will risi 
and fall again. Or the pipes stowed away on the 
top of the beds will give a groan, as if someone was 



i64 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

putting wind into them. And it's soon after that 
they'll be wanted for a burying. 

In these treeless isles lumber is noticeable. When 
they'll see a shining on a plank, then, or it leaping 
from the floor where it was lying at the joiners, 
someone will be saying, "Fada goirid gum bi e, theid 
a tiomchioll air marbh fhathast — Long or short as 
it may be, it will come about the dead yet." And 
in the chapel-house itself, one night when the priest 
was away, the girls in the kitchen were hearing a 
swishing in the passage, as though the oilskins that 
hung there were blowing against the wall. They 
went to look, but the outer door was shut, and there 
was no draught. Going back to the kitchen, they 
heard it again and again. Next day men came up 
from the harbour for nails to make a coffin. 

Now these were in a bag in a closet underneath 
the stairs, by the door of the scullery; and when it 
was dragged out along the bare floor, the girls cried 
out, "That's what we were hearing last night!" 

"It is certain that he see more fateful and fearful 
things than he do gladsome," says Reverend Robert 
Reid of Aberfoyle, — ^meaning him who is taibhsear ^ 
(seer). One here was away with the dead; another 
has seen the Bean-Nighe,^ the Washer; this other 
was chased by the Water-horse to his own door. . . . 

But look well round you for the Celtic Gloom. 
. . . And where is it at all? 

^ Tash- er. 
° Ben-nee-ya. 



CEILIDH 



165 



Now the door of a black house, standing open 
most times as it docs, isn't planed on the inside. 
They give the Celtic Gloom the smooth side of it 
at ceilidh. 



IV 

"Gabk oran ^ (take a song) I" says someone. And 
what will they be singing — laments? Not they. 
Love-songs? Och, yes, to be sure! Here's one I 
heard sung at a ceilidh by Iain Mac Dhonnachaidh 
Bhig: 

M. M. J=72. Cheerfully, but with feeling. 



i 



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mf 



Mo chail-eag inhin - gheal-mheall-shiiil -each, A 



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itaz 



M 



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t=^ 



dh'fhksgu fall-ain fuas- gailt'-,Gur trom mo cheum-o'n 



i 



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W 



dheal-aich siun, Aig clach - an Ghlinn-da - ru - ail. 

And though he says he's heavy-footed for leaving 
her, what less could any lover, Sasunnach or Celt? 

And now a sailor raises the refrain, "Mo Chridh' 
Trom, 's cha Neonach — My Heart Heavy, and No 
Wonder," and the tune of it far from hilarious. 
But you'll see the men grinning as the song goes on : 

^ Gav or- an. 



i66 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



M. M. J=76. Plaintively. 




Mo chridh'-tr6m,'s cha nedn - ach 



'S ok an sign am boghda frois, 
A bith anus' a' mhaduinn mhoch; 
'S mi bha cinnteach as a ckroich, 

'N uair a nochdach as na nebil i. 

Gu bkeil na Sasunnach gu cruaidh! 
Qu bkeil a BheurV aca cho luath! 
Ged a chiureadh a' dhol nam chluas 
Cha tiuginn 'fhuaim seach rbpa. 

' Chiaduair dhomhsa dhol gu feum, 
Cha robh sgoil agam na Beurl', 
H-uile fear 'na riuth 's na leum; 
Is Beurl' aca air gach rbpa. 

It's bad the sign, the bow of storm, 
Showing in the early morn ; 
It's myself was sure of harm 

When in the clouds I saw it. 

How the Sasunnach is hard ! 
How swift at him the English word ! 
I'm not knowing what I heard, 
Nor letting go the right rope. 



CEILIDH 



167 



When I first went off to sea, 
Little English was at me; 
The others had it fast and free ; 

Could English put on each rope. 

* 
And you're like as not to hear a Crow-song {Oran 

na Feannaig), the "edge" of it old when the birds 
had the Gaelic, and the words made up the night 
before by Niall son of Iain son of Angus, in his 
boat. As they pulled in the lines, he'd be lilting it 
over to himself. Then the man next would be say- 
ing, "A-a-ach! — that's not so bad. . . . Suppose 
you sing it some night at ceilidh." 

If that's not forthcoming, then everyone knows 

TURUS DHOMHNUILL DO GHLASCO 
(Donald's Trip to Glasgow) 

As fast as possible.-gabbling it ! 




r->. . fr- 



Thug mi suil - air a chruinn- eag; Bho 



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miiU-ach gra-brog-an,'Sbheir-innm'fhac-al dhu-ibh 



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uil - e, Nach robh uir - eas bhu -idh neSil air. Bha sMl 

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gor[o]m mar an dearfaj-qagi Fo-mh'il-aehaoin.chdmh-nard; 



i68 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



W^:f^f ^=f= ^=^^H^^^ 



'S gur a bil-ean 's a gru-aidh-ean cho gl4n 



-+- 



-i^-r-i 



"W 



mo/io rit. 
sun-adh ris na r6s - an Air bh&rr nan sUt. 

I'd my eye on a neat one; 
From top-knot to brogues, 
Take my word, not a black 
Nor a yellow was on her ! 
Eyes blue as blae-berries, 
Under brows smooth and mild; 
Her lips and her cheeks 
Were as bright as the roses 
A-top the twig. 



In these fabliaux, one vowel is carried through 
the eight-line stanza. The ninth line sets the vowel 
for the next, and is drawled out through the nose, 
in contrast with the gabbling of the rest. 

"Bardism," boasts the Second Bodach in Father 
Allan's folk-play, " was running in my family from 
knee to knee." With that in their heads that they 
never wasted any time learning, it's no trouble to 
make up the like for themselves. 

"I went once to tell a fisherman's wife that her 
husband was drowned," Father Allan told me. "She 
was in bed. . . . 'Och, you needn't tell me your 
errand!' she said; 'I know that Angus is drowned.' 
I took her hands in mine — there was nothing I could 



CEILIDH 169 

say. She raised herself up, and burst out into a 
chant^— three verses of poetry. Then she shook her 
head a little from side to side, and fell back in a 
swoon. I saw this again at a funeral. It was at 
Christmas, and the dead was a young girl. The 
coffin was on the stakes and they were lifting it; 
the mother bent over it and burst out into chanting 
and singing — several lines of beautiful verse. They 
said to her afterwards, 'What did you say"?' . . . 
and she had no memory of it." 

And lesser occasion will move them. One man 
was ploughing over on the main-land; and as he 
trod the furrows North to South and South to North, 
first the one of his splay-feet, then the other, pointed 
West. So he made a Crow-song to tell how his feet 
were wanting home to Eriskay. Another gathering 
kelp, and slipping on the rocks, got the notion of a 
Crow-song out of his mishaps. Another still, lying 
bed-fast, was watching the hens going in and out 
amongst the cups and plates on the dresser. They 
got on his nerves — so he made a Crow-song about 
them. 

And it'll be a queer sort of a ceilidh with never a 
sgeul, whether of Fionn and Oisinn and Deirdre and 
the Sons of Usnoth, or The Shifty Lad, or the Lay 
of the Red-lipped Maiden, or Brambles in Mid- 
winter, or the Lay of the Banners, or The Red- 
haired Squint-eyed Cave-Dweller of the Desert; and 
each of them better than other: tales you may hear 



170 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

in substance the world over, but told with an Eriskay 
twist; or tales not like to be heard elsewhere, — as 
(I think) is the tale of "Michael Scott." Some of 
them never in print, and most of them told by those 
who could not read them if they were. Ask to hear 
an Ossianic Lay, and here's one who will lilt you 
it. . . . "Do you know, Father," said a woman of 
the Isles, "these sgeulachdan were just made up by 
a woman vSho had to save her life. But the Ossianic 
tales are true as truth." 

A waif-word out of the Arabian Nights. . . . 
What was wafting it into a black house? As well 
ask the drift-wood cabars overhead in what wood 
were they grown, or what wave washed them thither. 

The first tale from the host, and tales from the 
guest until daylight. A good seannachaidh will give 
you up to fifty, — some of these will take a two hours 
in the telling. And I'd be sorry for the Sasunnach 
that had the job to better them. The wisdom of the 
old folk is stored up in the common speech of the 
black houses like the honey in the comb. Old bardic 
words lie buried in it, as the roots of firs and hazels 
that once covered hart and hare and wolf, and boar 
in the forests of Old Caledonia, lie buried in the 
moss to-day. The sweet high-sounding things that 
only poets and lovers say in the Great World are 
in the mouths of herd-boys on the Edge of it. 



CEILIDH 



171 



And it's very like you'll listen long, nor hear a 

word out of the way, — though I mistrust the men 

have verses they don't sing at ceilidh. I remember 

one in a love-song Father Allan gave me, saying, 

"You won't want to sing that. It's rather pastoral, 

you know." Your best chance of that will be when 

the stools go back against the wall, and the couples 

stand up for a reel. Then one shall raise the lively 

Port-a-Beoil (Mouth- tune, as apart from Port-ct- 

Phlob — Pipe-tune), and all but the dancers "lift 

under it," while the sea-boots mark time on the floor. 

As fast as possible, marking time with the foot on the floor — 
two beats to the measure. 




^^^ 



Ho ro, troth - ad a ni'n donn ! Nach tig thu nail, 



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ciud - e rium?Ho ro, troth- ad a ni'n donn ! Nach 

FINE. 



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tig thu shuidh -e liimh-rium ? Ge b'ann air mull-ach 



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beinn - e e, Ge b'ann air mull-ach beinn - e e, Ge 



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b'ann air mull - acb beinn 



e, N'an 



172 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



E2E 



^^^ 



coil 



eig 



fh^s 



aich. Ho 



Ho-ro, come hither, hrown-haired maid! 

Won't you come along o' me? 

Ho-ro, come hither, brown-haired maid! 

Won't you come a-side me 

To the top of the beann, 

To the hill in the desert? 

In these there is very likely to be what wouldn't 
get by the censor. 



VI 

None will be silent but the girl whose mother died 
within the year. Though the best-voiced of them 
all, none will say to her, "Na 'n tog sibh fo 'n fonn — 
won't you lift on the tune?" ^ for respect to the one- 
not-remaining. The old folk themselves will lift 
stoutly as any, even on such a chorus as to 

MO GHRAIN A' CHAILLEACH 
(My Spiteful Old Woman) 
M. M. J=88. With sarcastic tiumour. 



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hi o ha, gur cru-aidh a' chaill-each ! O 

.^ y ^^ 



hi o ha, gur fu - ar 

*Nan tok she fone foun. 



a chain- each 1 Ho 



CEILIDH 



173 



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"I ^ FINE. ^ 



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fein aig bail - e; 'S ma bheir mi le sug - radh 



EM 



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-y— y*- 



siiil - cail-eig, Gur diumb fal - achd-si d'dhomh-sa, O 



Ma ni mis' tigh-bsda stop a cheannach. 
Mo suidhe air bbrd 's gun bl mi drama, 
Theid faileadh 'na srbin 's a dbrn an tarruinn, 
'S bithith muinntir a bhaile ri mbd oirrn. 

0-hl-o-ka, etc. 

0-hi-o-ka, how hard is the cailleack! 
0-ki-o-ha, how cold is the cailleach! 
Ho-re-ho-ra, she's spiteful, the cailleach! 
Myself was the foolish young booby. 

If I'll go to a fair or a feast or a wedding, 

She's jealous the while, and herself at the townland; 

If ever I'll cast a sweet eye on a lass, 

What a grudge she'll be taking against me ! 



174 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

0-hl-o-ka, etc. 

If myself 's at the bothy nor buying a mutchkin, 
At tabic am sitting and never a dram, 
She'll come sniffing her nose and shaking her fist ; 
The folk will be crowding about us. 

0-hi-o-ha, etc. 

Sitting all day in the warmest corner, or out-by 
at the house-end in the sun, the old folks' thoughts 
so shape themselves in old-word {seann-focal) and 
dark-word {dubh-focal) that, when they speak them 
out, their very own will ask of one another, What 
do xhtj mean? So devout as they are too. . . . Did 
you hear how old Fionnaghal in Benbecula lost her 
teeth? Someone told her, if she would take (off) 
the heads of nine nines of beetles with them, she 
would see God. 

"And did you do it?' Father Allan asked her. 

"I did. But I saw nothing. . . . There was 
another woman trying it, but she died." 

"That was an awful thing for you to be doing!" 

"It was that. . . . But it was worth while — it 
was worth while !" ^ 

You wouldn't take them for the jokers that they 
are. "One had the toothache one time, when 
another who was dropping in said, 'Och, — I'm so 
sorry ! I have a charm against it.' So she took her 
up to the hill-fold and told her to call out at each 

^ Under my notes of this I find in Father Allan's hand, 
"Just to try it." 



CEILIDH I'JS 

of the four corners, 'Tha mise so, 's an deideadh 
orm — Here's myself, and toothache on me !' " 

"The poor old woman had her face done up, and 
lisped anyway, but she went all round the fold, 
and called out as loudly as she could, "Tha mise so, 
's an deideadh orm I' " 

"Then the other one shouted out, 'Tha mise so, 
's cha misde leum sin — Here's myself, and none the 
worse!' and trotted away as fast as she was able." 

And, "One night at ceilidh, an old man was say- 
ing it was the night the Sithean (Fairy Mound) 
would be open. . . . Then he'd be saying, every 
now and then. He must be going on. Well he knew 
every boy's eye was on him! ... So at last he 
started. It was a wild night, and he went a long 
road, — and all to fool the boys who were following 
him. . . . And he an old man turned of eighty!" 

"I don't like this making fun of old women," I 
objected, after taking down Mo Ghrain d Chailleach 
and another of the same stripe. 

"Why, they like it themselves!" said Father 
Allan. 



VII 



It's curious to mark the Irish traits here — with a 
difference. Islesmen and Highlanders don't like 
the Irish, Irish though they be in origin themselves, 
with only twelve miles of salt water between them 



176 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

in Antrim and Argyll. But the old stock, re-set in a 
soil more unkindly, and withal the Lochlarmer 
grafted thereupon, would seem to have toughened in 
more ways than one, — nor wholly to its betterment, 
perhaps. "You won't hear anything said there that 
would hurt your feelings," says an Irishman to me 
of his own calf-country. ... I'd not insure yours 
thus in Innse-Gaill. 

Better neighbours never were than here, nor 
warmer-hearted. But they've a sense of humour 
singularly robust; and the Gaelic, that sharpened 
the tongue of Rob Donn, and reddened the cheek 
of many a Highland gentleman — and Highland lady 
too — in the days when the Cliar-Sheannachaidh 
were sorning on the West, — the Gaelic, abounding 
as it does in paronyms,^ assuredly can serve them.. 
. . . I'll show you a man in this very room can 
drive you out a rat withal (the grey-eyed one has 
seen him do it) ; will sit him down before the hole 
and there hold forth so eloquently on the occupant 
and his ancestors that at length and at last Mr. Rat 
can be putting up with it no longer. . . . 

I won't say there's no such thing among two- 
legged beings as to take offence. . . . "Don't let 
that lie around — someone might see it," Father Allan 
warned me once, when showing me a skit of his own 

^For example (from Macleod and Dewar's Dictionary): 

"Coilleag; A cockle; a smart stroke; a potato sprout; a rural 

song; a loud and cheerful note." Not to mention Coilleag a' 
Phrionnsa — Prince Charlie's Bay. 



CEILIDH 177 

on — ^but there! — that's telling. . . . However, it's 
give-and-take amongst them, in the main. 

"Is Aonghas here?" will ask a woman, coming 
into a neighbour's to look for her son, — a grown 
man, but a wee one. 

"He's not here, whatever," will answer the man- 
of-the-house, peering into the depths of his own sea- 
boot that stands by. 

She'll take it in good part. Indeed, word-handi- 
ness is held so high by Islesmen that they'll stand a 
little pertness with it, even from the children. There 
was a little chap that heard his father ask his mother, 
"What mark will we put on the sheep*?" 

"A gill on one ear and a half-mutchkin on the 
other," calls out the beadagan^, whose father is fond 
of a dram. 

The father takes up a stout stick, and the lad 
takes his two soles out of it. But the father'll tell 
it on himself. 

"God gives us this, because we have so little," 
said the grey-eyed girl, one time that I remarked 
upon their ready wit and cheerful spirits. We stood 
at the window of my room just then, and she look- 
ing outwards and downwards saw passing a youth 
she was forever teasing. ... A meaning gesture, — 
and he makes off down the path, hands shaking high 
above his head, crying out lamentably, "O Dhia, 
DMa!" ^ 

»Brat. ="Yee-a, yee-a" (God, God)! 



178 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

vin 

With singing, with chaffing, with burning of peats 
and with telling of tales old and new, so go the 
nights in Father Allan's Island; and so the Isles 
over amongst Catholics. Free-Kirkers have the name 
of being more strait-laced; though when I was 
amongst them in Skye, at two weddings, I found . 
them all merry enough, once the minister away. . . . 
"They're waiting for me to go before the fun 
begins," himself said in my ear at table; a genial man 
withal and a well-liked. 

After supper (which I can't somehow recall 
except as mutton-broth and whisky — ^but I know 
there was good and plenty more to it) we sat down 
in the byre on long forms from the school-house, 
knee to knee, and sang till broad daylight. Three 
songs were going there at once, everyone in the room 
lifting under the one or the other, and whisky going 
too! They're sober enough, most whiles, but save 
up for a wedding. 

Then each pays so much, and carries round the 
bottle and the glass — I made one round with them 
myself. I don't know how many trips these took 
that night, nor yet how many times I tasted (for 
you can't refuse). It's not a high-proof whisky, 
anyhow. I've no head at all myself, and yet I didn't 
feel it. But towards daylight I remember one young 
woman leading out her man, a strapping fellow. 



CEILIDH 179 

tall and bearded, but meek as a lamb, and he falling 
all over us as they squeezed by. But all that she 
said was, and she smiling about her, "I think it's 
time we were going!" 

When Father Allan wedded any of his own peo- 
ple, the first round of whisky he served with his 
own hand at the chapel-house, where also the first 
reel would be danced. And when thereafter they 
set forth for the bride's house, the piper playing on 
before. Father Allan went with them, to make the 
night of it, and to see that the bottle made only so 
many rounds (^deasal) and no more. And if by 
any chance the dancing flagged, I have heard say 
that Father Allan's "Suas el" ^ was louder than 
any. No quarrel had he with the piper nor with 
the seannachaidh, nor even with whisky in modera- 
tion. "We know how necessary it is for our poor 
people to be happy" I have heard him say. 

How can that be? 

Well, — without the black house may be coarse 
weather, and within, little bread and many round it. 
But if the nameless namer of the isle, whose own 
name is forgot, could but give a look-in at a proper 
ceilidh, even now he should not find the name out- 
worn. For here in his Island of Youth, in the hearts 
of young and old, youth still abides. God gives it 
them indeed, because they have so little. 

' Swash-ay ! Up with it !. 



i8o FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

IX 

It's a quaint thought at ceilidh, that here we were 
in those very "Yllis, quha, being void of the knawl- 
edge and feir of God, and the reverence and 
obedience aucht his Majestic, delytis in na thing 
ellis bot blude, murther, and all kynd of barbarous 
and bestlie cruelties, to the offens and displesour of 
God, and the sclander and reproche of this haill 
natioun;" and that the forbears of this very folk 
we're rubbing elbows with stand in State Papers 
of his Majestic aforesaid as "barbarous canniballis, 
quha nevir in ony aige wer civill, bot hes bein the 
schoolemaisteris and fosteraris of all bafbaritie, 
savaignes, and crueltye." 

Are we then to conclude that Islesmen nowadays 
are as "vertew, lerning, and the Inglis tung" have 
made them'? 

Well, — as for "vertew;" they had their priests 
then, as they have them now, and no thanks to His 
Majestic James Sixth for that. And as for "lern- 
ing" — that's a large word, surely, for what they 
can get at the school-house in the Baile, — nor has 
that been there long. As for the "Inglis tung" — 
most of the men have more or less of it, to be sure. 
Some of them have seen the world before the mast, 
or what a sailor glimpses of it in the ports. . . . 
New York himself is a bonnie place, one says. But 
the old people have not English wherewithal to pass 



CEILIDH 181 

the time of day. Nor are they so well off in body 
or estate as under the old order. While as for the 
amenities: whereas their elders were free of the 
chief's house and met chief and tacksman in their 
own as man to man, they are now, but for the priest 
and teacher (and the teacher in Eriskay when I 
was had no Gaelic), thrown back wholly on them- 
selves. 

It's not easy seeing whom they've to thank, then, 
that they are better than their fathers, — if indeed as 
to this we're to take the word of one who never 
risked his skin amongst them, or of such as visited 
them but to bring the torch and sword. Better wit- 
ness than theirs is, I think, between the boards of 
Carmina Gadelica, concerning which a Sasunnach 
has said: 

"In these two volumes, a treasury of delight to 
the Gael, have been set down good store of prayer, 
invocation, and charm, and what-not, in a Gaelic 
that in its wording shows a continuity from very 
early times. Drawing nothing from books, but only 
from the lips of men, dealing in verse alone, these 
volumes, with their fascinating introduction and 
notes, reveal nothing less than a whole lost world 
of culture; the deepest spiritual life of a race. 
Obscure, uncultivated and isolated as these people 
were, they developed among themselves a spiritual 
culture brilliant, imaginative, full of grace and dig- 



i82 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

nity, such as it would be difficult to parallel among 
the records of any other primitive race." ^ 

Yes: and were the writer of these words to see 
for himself what James Sixth never saw — these folk 
on their own soil; were he to sit with them at 
ceilidh in their own poor houses, he would find that 
world not even yet a lost one; that spiritual life 
still lived on the True Edge of the Great World. 



Now there are those that wish the Islesfolk well, 
and, deeming them to "suffer from a too limited 
experience of the world," ^ urge emigration for and 
on them. 

Ourselves who in one way or another suffer from 
experience too extended might be asking, What have 
they thereby to gain? 

Well, — if their flitting were to be no further 
than from Eriskay across the Kyles, to the lands 
that kept their forbears well enough in meal and 
milk, surely one could wish them nothing better. 
But if the water were the ocean, or the Minch, one 
might be asking rather. What do they stand to lose? 

Their speech, at all events, their sweet high- 
sounding speech, that was in the mouths of kings 
and bards in Albcdnn before the seeds of English 

'T. W. RoUeston, in the London Chronicle. 

'Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Chairman of Congested Districts 
Board, 1900. The above is from a letter to Major Matheson of 
the Lews, dated 1902. 



CEILIDH 183 

speech were sowed in English soil: the speech that 
looks so rough in print, yet sounds so softly: 

Its large unhurried gait bespeaking it the utter- 
ance of thoughtful men, yet having its short-cuts 
and its sword-thrusts too: 

The speech wherein, as in the hollow of a shell, 
the child of the black house may hear the murmur 
of a far-off mighty past. 

"Well, — ^but the English is a good tongue, too," 
you'll say. "Love is love in any language," says an 
Englishman to me, we being on the subject (of the 
language) ; "and I doubt if it can be better said 
than in the English." 

True enough, for an Englishman. But is he to 
be doing the Gael's love-making for him? It's 
hardly a question of better or worse: the question, 
I take it, is of what's one's own. . . . Ye can say 
it so much stronger in the Gaelic. . . . Who, having 
talked with a Highlander, but hears this, first or 
last? For how is he, with his poor chance of school- 
ing, to get good change of English for his Gaelic? 
Good-bye, then, to his poet-thoughts for good and 
aye, once he's out in the Great World. If he shall 
think them still, who'll be the wiser? 

Nor in his after-life shall schooling in the Gaelic 
make him up his disinherison. Gadhlig gu leoir aig 
d Mhaghastair Ailein — ^Plenty Gaelic at Father 
Allan, I have heard his people say. But he — ^best' 
scholar in the Isles, poet, preacher, jester too upon 



i84 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

occasion — himself used to declare, "I haven't the 
speech of these old people." And why not'? 
Because his parents, Highlanders of long descent in 
Far Lochaber though they were, being inn-keepers 
had the English, and practised it about the house 
while he was first getting the use of his own tongue. 
So that the idiom the child of the black house never 
wastes time learning, that the old people salt every 
sentence with (as he would say), he felt he had 
never fully mastered. 

"Any one of them could put better words into it 
than these," he protested when I praised the live 
phrasing of his little play. And one night later, 
when a man, considering his part, made some emen- 
dation, he turned to me with a "What did I tell 
you?" ... "I never write a thing that pleases me 
but I find it better said already in some song," he 
said again. 

Well, then: I cannot count the loss of native 
utterance a light one. But grant it so : grant it even 
well lost for the sake of better fortunes. 

And is the Islesman sure of these, then? 

Unskilled as he is, his Island virtues such as 
mainly tell against him in the world, he's like to be 
changing his black house for nothing better than a 
"back-land" in a Glasgow slum, or a back room in 
a "lung-block" in Manhattan. And there's a 
Baldrouboudour-bargain for you! — a fine new 
lamp to be getting for his old one. . , . 



CEILIDH 185 

To be sure, the children will have better chance 
of schooling. But ask anyone who knows, What 
more than their lessons they'll be learning. 



XI 



And these grey-eyed girls, woman-grown, — do you 
like to think of them behind a counter, or before 
a power-machine? 

They're hardly like to spoil their teeth in such 
employment, to be sure, as poor old Fionnaghal did, 
— ^nor like to see their God there either, if I'm to- 
believe what I'm hearing. ... 

Domestic service, then, — that's urged as more 
"protected." 

I wish whoever thinks so might have had my 
chance to judge of it one summer. I'd stayed in 
town to work on this same book in quiet, as I hoped ; 
my room being at the back, and giving on the hollow 
of a "high-class" block, where most of the houses 
were closed for the hot weather. But in some three 
or four the maids were left as care-takers. So, 
whether I would or no, I must overlook most of their 
on-goings, day and night. And a pity of them 
though it was, poor things! who themselves wanted 
care-taking surely more than any four walls in the 
town, yet I doubt they'll be sorrier for themselves 
some day than anyone will be for them. 



i86 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Yet such is but one of their chances. Now that 
"the family's" in town again, how much the more 
are they protected? What more can any mistress do 
for maids in town or coimtry than to "hope they 
won't be foolish," and to warn them — at risk to 
herself of a "warning"? They'll not attend her 
— class-hostility discounts whatever she may say. 
They're counselled much more to their minds by 
company they keep, and this she can't control. It's 
a show, the respect they seem to pay her: a sham, 
the protection she's supposed to give them. And 
what is she to do about it? 

"I'll take home two or three of these," she'd say 
if she were here to-night, and think so her troubles 
were over. 

They're friendly and gentle, they're modest and 
truthful; their fathers and mothers and the priest 
have done their duty by them, the fear of the town- 
lands' bare boards has backed their elders' counsel. 
A far cry from these as they are, to what she's left 
behind; putting all they can earn on their backs, 
pounding round on their silly high heels ("and it's 
as much as their stockin's'll stay in the tops of their 
shoes," says one of the old sort) ; shirking all that 
they can, doing Heaven knows what or what-not 
once her back is turned. . . . 

Bare-footed on the bog thej' came from, they'll 
have been nowise other than these grey-eyed ones 
here. And sooner than to be putting these in those 



CEILIDH 187 

others' places, I don't mind saying I'd see them in 
their cofRns on the stakes. 



XII 

But a man has a better chance in the Great World, 
you'll say. And since the Islesman's such a man 
of tonuisg, why shouldn't he be getting on? 

Belike he shall. But not till he's unlearned the 
code men live by in the Isles. For how shall he 
love his neighbour as himself, and yet be studying 
to over-reach him? Worldly-mindedness, of all 
things most abhorred amongst the townlands, must 
serve who would deal with the World and the Flesh 
and The One-ive-won' t-mention, if he'd hope to hold 
his own. Success will have its cess : I doubt he'll find 
himself worse cumbered in the end, if he attain it, 
than by want of tackle. 

And what if at the tying of the thumbs all this 
comes out? Suppose, when he's made his last ferry, 
it's shown him he's gifted his own with the one hand 
to rob them. with the other? How in that day shall 
he warn them? how counsel them or give them com- 
fort? Out-by on the Edge of the World there 
needs no troke with Pipers nor Palladinos. But I'd 
pity any poor soul of an Islesman that would be 
coming back here in the town. For it's like he'd 
find amongst his own no eye to see him and no ear 
to hear him. 



i88 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"When I first saw the Highlands, I felt I had 
come home," I once heard say the aged Bishop Cam- 
eron of Antigonish in Nova Scotia, whose grand- 
father came from Locheil. 

I could have told him of another, her forbears 
longer in the New World than were his, who came 
to the land of her race ivith her head full of school 
and her feet full of dancing, to find herself as one 
who seeks with neither key nor clue where buried 
treasure lies: 

To feel, on that soil where her elders lie buried, 
the wraiths of old race-memories rise within her: 

To glimpse, in the workings of wind and tide, of 
rain and sunshine, ends higher than the quickening 
of seeds or the filling of sails : 

To see as it were played before her some Morality, 
whereby in some sort she might be the wiser, if only 
she might understand: 

To eye at last the earth in its unearthliness as 
one who searches the still visage of the dead, whose 
strange smile hints a secret not to be surprised. 
. How should such an one not say. My forbears 
had The Knoivledge of the Two Worlds. And how 
am I robbed of my birthright! 

When I hear talk of sending these away, then, "for 
their own good," I am minded of that old Highland 
story of the Feinne asleep in their cave, crying out 
on the one that half-waked them, "Is miosa dh'fhag 



CEILIDH 189 

no mar fhuair — ^Worse have you left us than you 
found us!" 

XIII 

The last Oidhche mhath has been said, and it's 
daylight already, in a summer month. In winter, 
if it's clear, the Northern Lights are leaping to the 
lift. But none shall go home with themselves before 
cock-crow, men nor women, if there's company to 
be had. And the child that's to carry a sieve to 
her home will take cold iron in the other hand, for 
fear of Them that most delight to boat the air in 
such a craft, and might, but for the talisman, swoop 
down and carry off the child and all, — unless she 
were fed on the milk of a cow that had browsed on 
meangan. 

And now the good-wife smoors the fire. 

I wish I had seen this for myself: I might have, 
and welcome, but somehow never thought on it. So 
let CarmichaeP tell it: 

"The embers are evenly spread on the hearth . . . 
and formed into a circle. The circle is then divided 
into three, a small boss being left in the middle. A 
peat is laid between each section, each peat touch- 
ing the boss, which forms a common centre. The 
first peat is laid down in name of the God of Life, 
the second in name of the God of Peace, the third 
in name of the God of Grace. The circle is then 

* Carmina Gadelici, note. 



190 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

covered over with ashes sufRcient to subdue but 
not extinguish the fire, in name of the Three of 
Light. The heap, slightly raised in the centre, is 
called Tulla nan Tn — The Hearth of the Three. 
When the smooring is completed, the woman closes 
her eyes, stretches her hand, and softly intones: 

"I will build the hearth 
As Mary would build it; 
The surrounding of Bride and Mary 
Guarding the house, guarding the floor, 
Guarding the people all." 

"Who are they on the lawn without'? 
Michael the sun-radiant of my trust. 
Who are they on the middle of the floor*? 
John and Peter and Paul. 
Who are they by the front of my bed*? 
Sun-bright Mary and her Son." 

"The mouth of God. ordained, 
The angel of the Lord proclaimed 
An angel white to keep the hearth. 
Till white day shall come to the embers." 

And so — the black house black at last indeed — to 
bed and to sleep sweetly. 

XIV 

I was speaking one time with a doctor in a Low- 
lands town (a man well up in years and well-to-do), 
and chanced to mention ceilidh. He had a Highland 
name and came from a black house; but this last I 
had not guessed because his tongue had lost the 



CEILIDH 191 

Highland turn to it. Well ! — I chanced to mention 
ceilidh, but for carelessness I made the ei something 
short. And so at first he did not understand. But 
all at once it was, "Och,- — ceilidh!" And I saw his 
cheek red, and his look far-away, — yes, and the 
tear in his eye and he bearded. 

"We'd have tatties an' herrin' afterwards," he 
went on to say, "and maybe a bit of a fight on the 
way home." Neither of which features I observed 
in Eriskay. 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN 
FIRE-END 

Whenever I stood up at ten or thereby of an 
evening, it was always, "Och, — don't go yet! You 
haven't said half what you wanted to." 

Yet he was ready enough with his own Oidhche 
mhath, whether at ceilidh or at The Other House, 
where a painter he knew, and other two, were stop- 
ping for a time. Two or three calls there, and as 
many ceilidhs elsewhere made up the sum of our out- 
goings together by night. 

Celidh has had its own tale to itself. Of the calls 
I remember best our home-coming after one a trifle 
dull. "Give me your hand," said Father Allan, as 
the door shut to behind us, and we stepped forth 
into the gusty moonless night, its dimness all the 
deeper for the pale auroral flickering overhead, where 
the stars stood too high and too small to be lighting 
us. "Give me your hand!" I thought he meant to 
lead me by the path, and the next that I knew we 
were cutting straight across the pasture, — like to 
break our necks, all ups and downs and what-not as 
it is, — laughing and shouting like school-boys let 
out. ... "I suppose you know every rock?" I 

192 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 193 

gasped, doing my best, and he pulling me along. 

"Och, — I'll show you a rock when we strike it!" 

Home again, however late, the peats must be 
stirred, and the bottle of Spanish wine brought out 
from the press by the chimney-piece, or maybe a 
mild grog mixed when we were weary, so that he 
might finish out the day to his own liking, at his 
own fire-end. 

When we settled down directly after supper, I 
would throw a cushion on the floor, one side the 
grate. So seated, my back to the box that held the 
peats, — the good clean firing you may lift with your 
bare fingers, and they none the worse, — so seated, I 
say, not only could I mend the fire when that was 
wanting, but so — and only so — could I get Father 
Allan into the one arm-chair and keep him there. 

With his feet in another, a pipe in his mouth, a 
good fire and a listener before him, truly here was 
a man that needed no drawing-out. Yet he himself 
could listen — ^none better, and a quicker at the up- 
take never was. Say what you would, you'd get no 
blank looks from the priest of Eriskay. Whitman — 
Whittier — Longfellow — most of our American 
classics he'd dipped into first or last: never tired to 
hear about "the States." . . . "I'm so interested in 
those 'po' whites !' " I remember his saying after I'd 
been mentioning our Southern mountaineers. And 
once when after writing letters for a while as he sat 
by, I read aloud, to break a silence rather long: 



194 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"Mrs. 



Cleveland," 

"Ohio?" — ^he capped it with a little smile. . . . 
Match me that if you can in The Adjoining 
Kingdom! 

"A deep scholar" some have called him since he's 
gone. He himself used to say, He never broke his 
head studying. The truth lay between the two, I 
take it, for he seemed to know more or less of most 
things you could mention ; had read a deal, not only 
in the English and the Gaelic, Scots and Irish, but in 
Latin, Spanish, and — I think — French: he had a 
grammar of the Basque tongue too. And most as- 
suredly he had remembered well. But that only 
served to make him all the more a Gael, who had 
rather Mac Mhaghastair Alasdcdr and Sinclair's ^rai- 
ncdche than all the English poets put together, and 
the Neo-Celts forbye. I never heard him praise but 
two of these latter: Neil Munro, — " 'The Lost Pi- 
broch's' the real thing!" he declared, — and Padraic 
Colum, whose play. The Land, he himself put in my 
hands and bade me read. All I could get out of him 
anent the others was, "Yes, — that's very pretty. 
But it doesn't appeal to me." 

His was the mind of the earlier Celt — the Celt of 
the cycles and sgeulan, robust and positive, desirous 
and direct. With that world-weariness of nowadays, 
that faintness of the will that wears with such an 
air the Celtic weed, he was in no sort of sympathy. 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 195 

Meeting with it at the outset in Yeats' Wind among 
the Reeds, he had not gone far enough further, I 
think, to find anything else there,— certainly not in 
his pla)^. I thought this a pity, and planned to 
send him Countess Cathleen, making sure that it 
would fare otherwise with him than had Pharais, 
sent by another hand not long before, "Fiona Mac- 
leod's just another Macpherson's Ossian," he 
declared. "Why, — she's got all her Gaelic — where 
it isn't wrong — out of Mrs. Mary Mackellar's Guide 
to the Highlands} . . . And I'm sure no Highland 
woman would ever have written that horrible thing !" 
— the Rune of the Sorrows of Woman. 

And how was he — a man and a priest — to know 
how a woman takes herself? 

Well, — as between himself and any Sasunnach, 
Father Allan was, I think, by way of seeing the fur- 
ther. First and last, a priest of the Isles comes 
pretty far ben into his people's lives. Poverty 
endured in common is a bond unequalled; sickness 
and bereavement both bring in the priest; and in the 
two small rooms of a black house the facts of life 
are, for the most part, plain enough to see. Speech, 
too, is plain amongst plain people — as, indeed, was 
Father Allan's own ; nor was he afraid to think and 
speak on matters that a priest has nought to do with. 

'•The secret was not out then. As for the Gaelic, what of a title 
— Pharais — in the genitive? While neither Scot nor Irish would 
address a girl named Mairi as "a' Mhoire," — a form held sacred 
to the Blessed Virgin by Gaels everywhere. 



196 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Did he not give me himself, out of his own note- 
book, the whole of 'S e mo Ghaoil d Mhairi Lurach 
— It's Comely Mary That's My Love — ^merely say- 
ing of one verse, "You won't want to sing that. 
It's pretty pastoral, you know." So again, when 
a woman paused between the verses she was singing 
me to ask him, looking doubtful, "Shall I give her 
that?" he nodded coolly, and proceeded to set down 
for me a quatrain which, for frankness anent certain 
of a woman's "sorrows," it would be hard to beat. 

No offence, then, had the Rune for him as to its 
matter — it was only that Highland women don't 
look at things that -may. . . . "No one understands 
us," he would say, with indeed more than one grudge 
in mind, past and present, against the Sasunnach, — 
but chiefly that last, that his stout-hearted Islandry 
should stand accused of gloom — the Celtic Gloom. 

To clear them of this — to make them known not 
as light-minded, yet cheery at heart and in their 
conversation too, no less than kindly and devout; 
to show forth their lot in life as not unlike to one of 
their own houses, which without are nowise light- 
some to look upon, yet better within than a stranger 
and Sasunnach might think, — such was Father 
Allan's chief concern, I think, throughout the whole 
of our foregathering. Very much as he would fill 
me out a glassful of his Spanish wine, would he bring 
forth the tale of some old man or woman, their mak- 
ing and taking of jokes; of Hamish the herd-boy, 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 197 

always hungry, warming himself now and then in 
Father Allan's kitchen; who when the grey-eyed girl 
would give him a biscuit, ran home to give it to 
"the others," with never a bite out for himself. . . . 
A child that Father Allan loved to think upon. 
"There's nothing he's so fond of as potatoes," he 
said once. 

"What does he get mostly?" 

"Och, — ^just potatoes ! But Providence has made 
them delicious to him — if only he could get enough 
of them." For Hamish's father is a landless cottar, 
and there are eleven of "the others." 

And again : of the man who when he saw a white 
pigeon on the roof, told the children not to harm it. 
"For I thought it might be the soul of my dead 
child come home to visit me." Of the poor agonis- 
ing ccdlleach, dying of a cancer at Ros-an-FMos, 
gasping out to him between her spasms, "Isn't it a 
shame I must be troubling you I" Of old Cairstinn, 
who minded the Putting-away of the People, 
hirpling up the brae whenever the chapel-bell was 
ringing; and old Ealasaid. . . . "Whenever I'm 
not saying my prayers, I'm singing. Ever since I 
was a child I was not without the torraman (hum- 
ming) of a song in my mouth. I had a sore finger 
once, — see? . . . and I made a song on that." I 
take these almost at random from my notes. His 
own, ten stout booksful, had gone to Edinburgh 
just before I came, and for my sake he regretted 



198 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

them sorely (though very proud to find them "worth 
anything at all"), but unceasingly he ransacked his 
brains for me, the lucky woman that I was. They 
had told me true who said there was no one like 
him anywhere for folklore. Nor was this for his 
store of it alone, but rather that — like his Gaelic — 
he HAD it. 

When he first came to the Isles, the old priest he 
relieved, — who lived with him thenceforward and 
there died — had prophesied, "My boy, when you've 
ploughed what I've harrowed, you'll believe more 
things." 

And the more as time went on with him, the more 
I fancy he felt leave to single out from what was 
bred of ignorance, what he took to be his own by 
way of Celtic birthright, while his tonuisg and his 
hearty sense of humour held the balance. There 
was a great bird that came there on a time, he said, 
and was thought to be the warning of great troubles : 
it was heard but never seen. Father Allan had ad- 
ministered the last rites to a man, and when he came 
out, the bird cried nearby ..." 'It's easy telling 
Donald hasn't long to live,' said they. . . . And 
what could / say — when the man was dying*? . , . 
A man's wife was ill, and he went away in a hollow 
to pray by himself, and the bird cried over his head. 
He came tumbling into the house, crying out, 'O my 
poor motherless children !' — and his wife not very ill 
at all. They had a great laugh at him. I was prob- 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 199 

ably the only man in the island who thought it a 
natural bird — a stray from another place, and so it 
proved to be. It was heard several times in the same 
place, and I was suggesting that they get a gun and 
shoot it. I suppose they thought I was impious !" 

"Never call a man a fool because he believes what 
isn't likely," Father Campbell had admonished him. 
But likely or not, so long as a notion were not to the 
good, he scrupled not to discredit it; as for instance 
that old cruel Highland saying that "tears scald the 
dead in their shrouds." "Isn't it a wicked thing for 
me to be doing this?" he minded one poor mourner 
saying, struggling with his grief. And why then had 
God given tears to men? Father Allan asked him, 
bidding him weep on. 

But again, one day as we were passing' through 
the harbour, he asked me. Did I see that little black 
fellow over there? ... It was the colour of the 
child's hair that he meant: in Highland districts 
generally, where so many are of the one surname, 
folk are tagged Dubh — ^black. Ban — fair, Ruaidh — 
red, and so on. . . . The child had strayed down 
on the rocks, he went on, when he was four years 
old, and his mother, missing him, went crying and 
wringing her hands as she called him, for the rocks 
were slippery with the sea-weed, and the tide was 
coming in. "But here he was coming up, and saying 
in his baby-talk. There were two nice ghosts {da 
laghaicTi bochdan) down there, all in white, and 



200 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

one was the nicest, for it said to him, Run away up 
to the house, his mother was looking for him. . . . 
Now, no one wears white in Eriskay, and there was 
no one on the shore anyhow." 

"And what do you think it was?" 

"It was his guardian angel," said Father Allan 
reverently. "You cannot get nearer Heaven than 
this." 

Nearer the Otherworld, surely, one might hardly 
hope to feel one's self on earth; nor, for this, needs 
not to abide there for even so long as from a Lady- 
Day to near St. Michael's. Stepping out the back 
door at an hour of dusk and lateness to fill my jug 
at the rain-barrel, how hopefully, how fearfully 
withal would I peer round me in the dim boreal half- 
light! No matter how often, it never was the less 
of an adventure to pass from firelight and lamplight, 
and Father Allan in his slippers, into a world built 
as it were from neither earth nor air; a world for 
the bodiless to stray in, neither dark nor daylit, 
whereon my coming cast no shade; and high to 
northwards the Host at their ceaseless sword-play 
in the lift, their soundless and endless leaping on 
Uist hills. Nothing fails after nightfall in Father 
Allan's Island, but one's eyes, for seeing. 

Father Allan himself had seen but once, he said, 
and that nothing more than the corpse-candle (a 
sight nowise out-of-the-way), and in another island. 
Looking down from a hill-side by night, he saw it 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 201 

move across the plain, then down a glen, to a house 
where he knew a man was dying: walking home- 
wards, met a messenger to say, The man was dead. 
But at Dalibrog, on a night before one of his young 
men was drowned, he lay awake a long time, hear- 
ing outside a low murmuring as of a multitude. 
Father Chisholm, a priest (and seer as well) from 
another parish, was in another bed in the same room 
and asleep, or so Father Allan thought. But pres- 
ently he spoke out, saying, "Do you hear anything?" 

"It might be the wind." 

"You know it is not the wind," rejoined the other. 
They got up and looked out at the window, which 
gave on the gravelled doorland of the chapel, but 
saw nothing. 

Next day Father Allan was in the same room 
while they were carrying the drowned man into the 
chapel; and when he heard them underneath the 
window, speaking low amongst themselves, he knew 
that sound for what he heard the night before. 

My notes of this fireside talk were rough enough. 
Never one could say more to the minute than he, 
nor did he like stopping for me to catch up. More- 
over, as the seannax:haidh says. It is the one thing to 
have a tale, and the other to put it into its joints. 

My sorrow ! how poor it is now on the paper, what 
once I heard so richly said ; so clear and so rapid, so 
elegant even, was the turn of Father Allan's tongue. 
Eyes sparkling — lips smiling — ^his brows in a com- 



202 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

motion — his long fingers hovering about the one and 
the other after a curious way he had, — ^now touching, 
now tapping them lightly; sometimes inclining his 
head a little towards me as he spoke, looking 
upwards and sidewise at me, and smiling into my 
eyes with a little shade of wistfulness; his strangely 
young-old face would then be at its youngest and its 
most engaging. I grudged to look away. 

Scratching down, then, a word or a phrase here 
and there to remind me, I would write out his talk 
by candle-light up-stairs while he said his office 
down below; sometimes would be at it for long after 
I was hearing his light footing past my door, the soft 
fall of his latch at the end of the passage. 

Come to think on it, his step was never anything 
but light, "long" man though he was, nor his move- 
ments other than sure. He never fumbled, — I've 
heard him speak scornfully of "fingerless people," — 
and an ease as of the Great World never failed this 
man, so little worldly, who in truth had the world 
so little to thank for anything. What would he be 
doing in a drawing-room? — ^he had been in one but 
two or three times in his life, he would say, when I 
hinted, Why not take a trip across the water, and 
make new friends in the New World? 

Not but that the notion pleased him. He had the 
Celtic pride in making a good figure, and used to 
recall with satisfaction his successes in the plays they 
had given now and then at the Scots College. , . . 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 203 

"And I'd like it now !" .. . , Nor was his pride of 
that uneasy sort that made it so hard for him to find 
amongst his Islesmen two men who would under- 
take the title-roles of his own folk-play, built on a 
folk-tale of two men who venture into a Szthean 
(Fairy Mound) . There are several of these in Uist : 
no one has been known of late to go into them, but 
smoke has been seen coming from them, I find in 
my notes. The first man hints modestly a way to 
better their Mouth-tune, and has his hump taken 
off him for reward: the second "spoils the tune," and 
finds himself outside the mound at cock-crow, with 
his own hump on him and the other's too. He was 
planning, when I came away, to have this done at 
the school-house. "And I'd do one of the Bodachan 
myself, if I wasn't a cleric !" 

For a time I used to be asking him. Didn't he 
want to keep this or that bittie for himself? 

"Och, no! What does it matter, so long as the 
things get known?" 

To be at such trouble, all for others' credit, 
seemed to me a pity. He shook his head. "I haven't 
any personal ambition." 

But mightn't he be making better use of his own 
findings than another could? 

This seemed to strike him, for indeed he had 
been little pleased with the working-up one pair of 
hands, at least, had given them. But, "I don't like 
writing a thing twice," he confessed. 



204 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

And God knows that — writing or no writing — 
Father Allan had done his day's darg. 

What this had been he had no little relish in 
relating. And I, as I listened, would be thinking, 
This ought to be made known, or. That should 
not be forgotten. But how to be putting your friend 
and your host, without his leave, into a book? I 
would not be so English as that. And here, as at 
parting with the cailleacTi in the glen, I showed my 
want of tonuisg: too late, when the time seemed in 
some sort gone by, I learned that what I would I 
might have written down, and welcome. Well, then, 
thought I, I shall be coming back. . . . 

"Write out what you can remember," counselled 
one when he was gone. . . . And even then the 
mists that are more than Hebridean were thickening 
fast about the tale he told. 

Only for what was out of common in himself, this 
was the common tale of priestly service in the Isles. 
First and last, this has called men of no common 
mettle, from Columcille to the priest of Eriskay him- 
self; men ready to steer their coracles unmoved 
through shoals of hellish beasts, to face white 
martyrdom ^ and red in the old days, and fever or 

'^The Rule of St. Columba enjoins: "A mind fortified and stead- 
fast for white martyrdom. A mind prepared for red martyr- 
dom." Dean Reeves' notes say of these: "White martyrdom. That 
is, self-mortification, or ascetic practices, or bodily chastisement, 
as opposed to red martyrdom, where blood is shed, or life laid 
down for truth's sake." The Rule of St. Columba, transcribed by 
Michael O'Clery, one of the Four Masters, from earlier records; 
translated by Eugene Curry. Appendix to Primate Bolton's Visi- 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 205 

famine in these; men of tonuisg, fond of a joke as 
of an adventure. . . . "You never get a stiff 
saint," I remember Father Allan saying. 

Are they anywhere in print, I wonder, his tales of 
"Father Seumas (McGregor)" of Bomish"? — "living 
like a peasant in rough clothes, trenching away in 
his garden, helping his people to make dykes and 
drains." Father Seumas, sometime Professor of 
Latin in the College at Lismore, had studied med- 
icine, and wrought strange cures on Catholics and 
Free Kirkers too, who came to him from all parts of 
The Long Island.^ 

"Once it was an elder, all crippled with rheuma- 
tism. He took him into a room and locked the door. 
He took out his fiddle and played a lively reel. 
'Dance you now!' he ordered." 

" 'I never danced in my life I' said the scandalised 
Free Kirker." 

" 'Dance you must !' roared Father Seumas, and 
dance he must and did until he was dropping on the 
floor. Then Father Seumas brought him to a warm 
bed all made ready for him." ... "I sweated the 
Free Kirk out of him anyway!" he told Father 
Allan. 

Again: "A woman came very dull and melan- 
choly. He said, 'Sit by the fire in the kitchen,' 
and told everyone to come out. Then he left her 

tations, edited by Dean Reeves. Irish Archeological Society, 
MDCCCL. 

* Another by-name for the Outer Hebrides — Gaelic, Innis Fada. 



2o6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

there for an hour, very dull and moping. Suddenly 
he burst in, and threw first one bucket of water over 
her, then another." 

Still again: "A man came with a terrible deep- 
seated abscess in his side. Father Seumas told him 
to go home and grind a peck of corn every day with 
the quern. He came home saying the priest was a 
fool, and he would have none of his treatment. But 
his friends persuaded him to try it — when the abscess 
burst." 

Was he the priest, I wonder, whom Father Allan 
stopped to see on a holiday tramp he was taking — ■ 
who said, when Father Allan started on again, 
"I'll see you a bit on your way," — and walked eight 
miles with him? No weakling, anyway, was Father 
Seumas. "How did you sleep"?" they asked him one 
morning at a house where, because of sickness, he 
had lain in an out-house on some bracken, the thatch 
broken over his head and the rain dropping down 
on him. 

"Och, well enough ! — only for a cow. There were 
some potatoes under me, and the cow kept pushing 
the door open all night, coming in to look for them. 
I had to get up every few minutes to drive her out." 

When at a great age he grew feeble, a young 
priest whom Father Allan loved for his light heart 
was appointed his assistant and another's (who 
would have been, I think, the priest of lochdar). 
His head full of songs. Father Allan M'Lean went 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 207 

footing it round Bomish and lochdar with an old 
fowling-piece over his shoulder, at £10 a year and 
his food; shooting wild-fowl for the pot in what- 
ever house he might be bound for, always happy, 
always making songs, always playing tricks on 
Father Seumas. 

"Father Allan (M'Lean) had caps to his gun. The 
children, who adored him, were always begging them. 
One day he was at a house where he and Father 
Seumas were well known. The children begged for 
caps. 'Wait until Father Seumas comes by,' he said, 
'then get you on either side of the road and call out, 
'Lair 'tha fodha, lig-i, lig-i!' and you'll get caps.' " 

"So they were delighted to think they would get 
caps so easily, and when Father Seumas came by 
they did as they were told." 

"Father Seumas said nothing, but gave them an 
ugly look. He got off his horse and went towards 
the house. The father came out and Father Seumas 
laid about his ears with the whip, saying, 

" 'Good-for-nothing ! it is easy to see where your 
children got their manners !' " 

" 'What have I done*?' said the astonished man." 

" 'Manner is not learned in the crow's nest,' said 
Father Seumas, and he laying his whip about the 
man's ears, and the man backing into the house. 
Whenever they were inside the door, there they see 
Father Allan M'Lean's gun on the table." 

" 'Ach!' said Father Seumas; 'B'h-urrasda gun 



2o8 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

robh ord-ionmaidh eile-agaibh (It is plain what 
teaching has been at you) !' " 

When Father Seumas and Father M'Lean too 
were gone, and Father John (whose other name I 
don't recall, but only that because of weakness in 
his throat he was dispensed from shaving) had come 
to Bornish in their room, the priests of lochdar, Ben- 
becula, and Barra, with Father Allan, — then at 
Dalibrog, — ^met one year there to make a retreat. A 
Jesuit Father had come from England to conduct it, 
and Father John, to do them handsomely, had killed 
a sheep. They ate of this the first night. But the 
next morning Father John came in to say, "I'm 
very sorry, but our provisions are gone." A dog had 
got in during the night and made off with the mut- 
ton. "And what will we do?" 

"Och, — we'll do fine with salt herring and 
potatoes!" said the Highlanders. 

"I know you're used to them, and I'm not trou- 
bling myself about you. But what will the English- 
man do?" 

"Oh, — that'll be all right," said he; and indeed 
he made light of it. . . . "But how can you drink 
such water?" It was alive. "Surely you'll all be 
poisoned !" 

"Och, — it's a grand water, this!" they laughed. 
"Meat and drink both. It's a very nourishing 
water !" 

These men, all college-bred, — at Rome, at Paris, 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 209 

or at Valladolid, — are jolly as school-boys when they 
get together. . . . "I've laughed so sometimes I 
had to go outside and knock my head against the 
wall !" . . . Such meetings are not often. To cheer 
themselves between whiles, one of them plays on the 
pipes when at home of an evening. Another whistles 
by the hour the most intricate reels and strathspeys, 
with all the variations (I had the honour to give 
him one he did not know). Five in number when 
Father Allan was at Dalibrog, they now are six. 
Dalibrog, when I was there, had its second incum- 
bent since Father Allan; his young friend Father 
Riggj_ a lad from St. Sulpice, having died there after 
six years of it, from tending a family through the 
fever; and Father Allan's heart was still sore for 
him. . , . "I'm not very soft, but many's the time 
I've sat here, and the tear in my eye, only to think 
on poor Father Rigg." 

And why do I mind all this — and more — so well, 
and Father Allan's own life^tale so ill? 

Because of him who told it. What a man! I 
would be thinking. One with wit and parts to make 
him sightly anyTvhere, and a heart as warm as any 
man's. Whatever in life there might be for a man, 
here was one to prove and to enjoy it . . . yet triply 
vowed to forego life's fulness, and like to see life's 
term untimely soon. Is it a wonder that I gave the 
less heed to the tale he told, for the more I gave 
to him? 



210 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Maghastair Ailein, as his people called him — "I 
wouldn't know who they were talking about if they 
called me 'Father McDonald !' " — was the son of an 
inn-keeper (a calling esteemed most genteel in the 
Highlands) at Fort William, and had chief's blood 
in him, come-by in a way less looked down on when 
the chief had the rights-of-the-first-night of the 
newly married women of his clan, than now. He 
belonged, that is to say, to an illegitimate branch of 
the McDonalds of Keppoch known as the Mic-an- 
Tighe — the Sons of the House. Following back 
this line, one comes not only to the first Lord of the 
Isles, but also to his second spouse, the Lady Mar- 
garet, daughter of that Steward who was crowned 
as Robert IL King's blood, then, was in Father 
Allan's veins — though I never heard him mention it. 
But how pleased he was when he found a woman 
who could chant for us the Song of Donald Donn, 
composed on the eve of his hanging by a cattle- 
lifter and marauder famous in his day ! "We come 
of the same stock," said he. 

Anent his childhood in Far Lochaber, I recall his 
saying. He used to like going off zuith himself to 
"The Loch," whose name (Loch Linnhe) he never 
knew until he saw it later in his geography. Many 
the horse out at pasture there he'd have liked to be 
getting on, he said, but didn't dare, for fear it might 
turn out to be the Water-horse. "There was a story 
the children had of one that let them mount him. 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 211 

His back would be getting longer and longer until 
they all were on. Then he plunged into the loch, 
and that was the last of them." 

It was a childhood short enough, for he was only 
"going on" eleven when sent to Blair's College in 
Aberdeen, and thence, a little later, to the ScotsCol- 
lege at Valladolid in Spain. 

"I never broke my head studying !" None the less, 
he was ready for priesting before he was one-and- 
twenty. I believe that he travelled in Spain for 
a time and might have stayed there. But, High- 
land-bom that he was, the arid uplands of Castile 
were "very unpleasing" to him. He wearied on 
them for the mountains and the mists, and before 
he was long priested took service gladly in the Isles; 
the work of two men this, though through no fault 
of "Bishop Angus," who often overtook their 
work when they fell ill of it, and died out-worn him- 
self in middle-life. "I don't want my poor priests 
killed," he would say sadly enough. But Argyll and 
the Isles is not one of the wealthy dioceses, nor has 
every Highland priest the Gaelic that would serve 
him in the Isles, where so many of the people have 
no English ; neither, as shall be seen, has every priest 
the pith for it. So that the stalwart youth with 
"plenty Gaelic at him," who "thought he could be 
doing anything those days," must have come as a 
God-send to Bishop Angus, and to Dalibrog and 
Eriskay as well. 



212 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

This was just following the passage of the Crof- 
ters' Act, when the Isles were as yet barely out of 
their deepest misery. Thanks to the "very nourish- 
ing water," "the fever (typhoid epidemic)" came 
oftener than now, as also the influenza (of which 
Father Allan died himself at last). With one or 
the other raging either side the Kyles, where on the 
one shore the people are scattered over twenty miles 
of machair, and through long glens that open to the 
tnachair on three sides of it, and on the other in an 
island with "not enough level ground in it to make 
a cricket patch" ; with a people whose ugliest word 
of cursing is "Bas gun sagairt agcdbh — Priestless 
death on you !" the priest has the impossible to do. 
But Father Allan did it, and a-foot, rejoicing in his 
strength. , . , "And I'd be sorry for the man that 
had to keep up with me !" 

No meat from December to May, inclusive. . . . 
"But didn't you need \x.T 

"Och, no! The only time it seemed altogether 
unbecoming was one Christmas Day that I sat down 
to my dinner, and it was just a salt herring and 
potatoes. But you do need something, sometimts" 
he admitted. In times of fever, when the beds are 
burning in the townlands (they bum a man's bed of 
the dried sea-grass, when he dies, before his door 
within the hour), he would often so hasten from one 
to the other, in his dread to see the smoke before 
him, that twenty-four hours on a stretch would pass 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 213 

before he broke his fast. Once it was thirty-six. 
. . . "Then they got me some eggs." 

Again there would be the long waits at Kilbride. 
Pulling up some heather for a beach-fire, he would 
damp this with sea-weed, that the smoke might 
let the people know in Eriskay "the priest was want- 
ing over." Tending this, fasting and shelterless, he 
might wait one hour or — as the South-west wind 
would have it — ^maybe ten. 

This on top of a walk of eight miles. . . . "But 
wouldn't they give you a piece in your pocket when 
you set out?" 

"Och, — if anyone had mentioned such a thing, 
I'd have told them not to bother!" He was used to 
fasting anyway, he added lightly. A rule that the 
poor Catholic of the Isles, who keeps his Lent the 
year round, makes cheerfully to work both ways. 
"They'll wait till three sometimes, when I've a good 
many stops to make," he said when I was making 
his rounds with him. 

"But won't the old people be faint?" 

"They're well use to fasting," he said, smiling. 

"And what would you be doing with yourself 
down by the shore?" 

"Och, — I'd be keeping up the fire, and I'd be mak- 
ing songs." 

Wet or dry, sleeping in his clothes on a bare 
bench in whatever black house he found himself 
benighted ; when he knelt at his own bed-side to say 



214 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

his office, sometimes dropping off for weariness with 
the first words of it, and slumbering on till dawn, to 
waken chilled and stiff and kneeling still. . . . "But 
those things weren't hardships," he protested when I 
said the word. "They only made it more interest- 
ing. Whatever was coming up in those days, I was 
glad of it." And again: "Don't you know how it 
is when a man is out hunting? Such things are only 
a part of the fun." ' 

There, so I take it, the true Celtic Spirit spoke. 
No Spirit of Gloom, but of the artist rather, wherein 
a man may be envisaging his own fortunes, good or 
bad, as they were the makings of a sgeul, and that 
not to be spoiled by such detail as a cold back or an 
empty belly to the hero. . . . "Such things are a 
part of the fun." Moreover, here was a man in the 
beginning more than common strong: blood in him 
of fighting-men and cattle-lifters too. No Dove of 
the Cell was he: whatever the Spirits of Terror in 
the path of him who has the Triple Vow to keep, be 
sure these would find Maghastair Ailein a man of 
his hands. 

How then should he be holding back for fear of 
breaking? As well ask the like of the wave that 
hurls ashore. And so, after ten years of Dalibrog 
and Eriskay together, before he had come to the 
years men count their best, this man who had 
"thought he could do anything" was well-nigh at 
the end of his. 



FATHER ALLAN'S OWN FIRE-END 215 

. "I thought it was lack of fervour that ailed me, 
and did penance for it." Then all at once on a wild 
night, and he making his way homewards through 
the storm across the machair, his breath failed him. 
... "I thought if I could get off the sand and my 
feet on the hard ground I could get on. Then if I 
could get to a wall, I would lie down behind it. But 
there was no wall, so I kept on. And I don't know 
why I didn't die, for I didn't want to live." 

After that the doctor said he must be resting for 
a little. "And indeed my knees were doubling under 
me when I tried to say Mass." But after a bit he 
thought that if he took a little exercise he might get 
stronger. So one day he set to work with a crow- 
bar, to clear his croft of earth-fast boulders. 

Just then, by luck, came by the doctor. "What- 
ever are you doing there?" he shouted. "Don't you 
know you might be dropping dead any minute?" 

"How so?" 

"It's your heart that's all wrong!" 

"Och, — why didn't you tell me that before?" 
said Father Allan calmly. 

When his strength had indeed come back to him 
in some part, a town parish on the mainland, with 
better living and the company of book-learned men, 
was offered him. But he chose Eriskay rather, think- 
ing soon to die there. Here, however, when I found 
him, he had already lived for other eleven years; 
neither lonely, save as a lettered man might some- 



2i6 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

times feel himself amongst fishing-folk and crofters, 
nor yet uncomforted, but only as a priest must needs 
be anywhere. ..." 'Who do you find to talk 
with?' my friends ask me; and I tell them, 'With 
the first old man or woman. And you'll never hear 
such beautiful talk as I get from them.' " 

Moreover: in all that time he "never saw Eriskay 
looking grey but once." 



A CHURCH FOR FISHERMEN 

"You never get a stiff Saint." ... No Gloom, 
then, Celtic or otherwise, was to be observed about 
the Sabbath even in Father Allan's Island. Ceilidh 
came at the end of it — the same, but for dancing, as 
on any other night; while before vespers, if it 
chanced any sort of a decent weather, you saw his 
islandry by twos, by tens, by twenties, a-foot or sit- 
ting on the slope before the chapel; and the priest, 
bareheaded and in his soutane, striding round 
amongst them. 

His hands in his pockets, he stands the centre of 
a knot, one day as the grey-eyed girl and I come 
round the corner. 

The bell is still ringing-in. We wait, then, for 
no one will go in before him. One man seems to 
be asking him something, the rest to be hanging on 
his answer. 

The bell stops, the question ends. Quick as a 
flash the priest replies, turns on his heel and strides 
in-doors, while a roar breaks out behind him, 

I look at the girl. "He's very witty, you know," 

she says sedately. 

217 



2i8 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"What were you saying?" I asked him after- 
wards. 

"Och, — the one with the white beard that I call 
St. Peter was asking what would happen if they 
didn't dip the sheep [as ordered by the factor] ; and 
I told them, 'You'll get dipped yourselves — and the 
big beards first.' " 

Only but for him, the bearded and beardless alike 
had still been worshipping where he had found them 
one-and-twenty years before, — in a black house with 
never a fire on the floor of it, and a hole in the roof 
that would let out the reek of a townland. 

When in 1901 he first addressed himself to raising 
money for the structure now on Rudha Ban, it was 
learned that the proprietrix, being Protestant, was 
not to be reckoned upon. The late Marquis of Bute, 
however, though Eriskay was none of his, bestowed 
a liberal sum. Money came in even from Russia, 
from some titled man (who was it? I forget), who 
had happened to hear of the poor mission, and the 
priests of the Isles opened willingly their lean purses, 
while the fishermen themselves made a surprising 
contribution. "I waited until they had been hav- 
ing pretty good luck for a while," Father Allan told 
me; "then I said to them, 'Why not give one night's 
catch to the Church*?' They laughed a little, but 
at last they said they would. That night they had 
the biggest catch of the whole year, and they gave 
the Church every pennyworth of it." 



A CHURCH FOR FISHERMEN 219 

"They let down their nets in honour of Our 
Blessed Lady and St. Michael," Father McDougall 
writes me from Dalibrog. "I understand the whole 
amount contributed by them was £280." Moreover, 
they quarried and hauled down the stone from Beann 
Sgrithean, and the children brought up the sand 
from the shore in their play-time. 

Seemly without, fair and orderly within, their lit- 
tle temple was when I saw it in a way to be, as 
Father Allan wished, "the most beautiful place they 
had ever seen." While I was with him, word came 
that a length of fine lace for an altar-cloth was on 
the way, while an altar-piece was being done by one 
of those painters whose talk of "colours" had so puz- 
zled the grey-eyed girl. I never saw it otherwise 
than crowded; Highlanders all, of Church or Kirk, 
being great church-goers. 

"I have to go round amongst the men every once 
in so often," a U. P. minister told me in Argyll; 
"and tell them. It's a pity they wouldn't stay at home 
now and then and mind the weans, and give their 
wives a chance of going to the Kirk." While in Uist 
you'll see them of a winter's morning setting forth 
before the daylight, with the "torch of the Hebrides" 
held high and turning them to goblins in their looks, 
lighting them over ten miles of rough going from 
the glens behind Beann Mor. Well folk never stop 
at home unless for a cow to herd or a wean to tend ; 
nor the old people either, so long as they can put one 



220 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

foot before another- "I never went to a dancing so 
willingly as I go to Mass," I myself heard poor old 
Ealasaid saying in Father Allan's kitchen, and she 
no one knew how old — not even herself. There are 
benches enough, then, in an Island church for two- 
thirds of the parish, and you'll have sharp eyes, if 
you come late to Mass, to spy out a seat for your- 
self. 

While the women were off at the fish-curing, a 
choir of young girls, as I have said, in the loft at the 
back of the chapel, made music at the Mass. The 
school-master gave them the pitch: for want of a 
tuning-fork even, poor fellow ! he would be guessing 
at it, humming high and low, before Father Allan 
would be half-way through the Prayers before the 
Mass. 

What these were like when Father Allan said 
them, it is easier to remember than to say. How, in- 
deed, should anyone who heard him be forgetting? 
This voice has not its like in London, said I to my- 
self in Dalibrog, new-come though I was then from 
hearing London's best. A voice like Columcille's 
for reaching to far places, ranging low and high, a 
voice with an edge to it, yet mellow as the chalu- 
meau. Quite unaware of these qualities, I believe, 
he had yet learned the power of his own lungs by 
proving them against his brother-priests', one time 
at a retreat. Each had taken his turn at saying Mass, 
and through some defect in the acoustics of the build- 



A CHURCH FOR FISHERMEN 221 

ing, none of them could fill it. "But when it came 
to me — they heard me." 

I can believe it. But, though he "didn't know he 
was doing it that way," it was rather in that way 
of his than in his gifts of voice, that was his chief 
distinction. It was his own way, too. I never heard, 
nor shall I hope to hear again, the like, now that I 
shall never again hear him. 

Yet like many another thing in Highlands and 
Isles, it was with little sense of newness it came over 
me, but rather as it might have been the way of my 
own far-back forbears, or ever John the Arch-chant- 
er was sent to the Adjoining Kingdom to teach the 
ways of Rome. 

Whoso had knelt in that same isle good thirteen 
hundred years before, in fear of fire and sword and 
Lochlanners, might in those self-same accents have 
besought deliverance. 

And yet before : whatever Powers of Earth or Air 
were worshipped there before the Cross, one felt the 
way of Father Allan might have served their priests 
no less well than it served him. 

The lilt of a music immemorial was in it. Indeed, 
I think he may have learned it in the same school as 
they, and all have learned, unknowing, from those 
Arch-chanters, the earliest of any — the sea and 
the South-west wind; whose voices were the first to 
lift themselves among the Isles, whenever these first 



222 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

showed themselves above the surge, who sing among 
the Isles the same tunes still. 

Nor are they ever silent long in Father Allan's 
Island, where again no one speaks from the heart 
but he shall catch some lilt of theirs. 

No music of the schools was here, then; no way 
of Rome nor of the East, but only the heartfelt ut- 
terance of one who "didn't know he was doing it that 
way" even; who did it but to make complaint and 
supplication for a few poor folk, sorely and long 
held down by fortune and the elements alike. 

And why did I not try to take it down? some one 
asks me. 

Truly, whoever could do that could be taking 
down the tunes the wind cried without at the win- 
dow. 

To tell the truth, I thought no more on recording 
the one than the other, so long as I had them in my 
ears; nor even on turning into the English — ^beyond 
the solemn "O losa!" at the start — the volleying 
syllables, the sighing cadences, the long wash and 
roll of the Gaelic. 

I make no claims — ^not I. But one must indeed be 
little pious, to busy himself taking notes while Fa- 
ther Allan prayed. 

So praying now, he kneels before the altar, and 
I, so listening, kneel in my place of honour at the 
front on my first Sunday. . . . When suddenly, 
from out the air on high, there steals a faint un- 



A CHURCH FOR FISHERMEN 223 

earthlike tone . . . and then another . . . and an- 
other . . . like to the moaning of the wind, yet 
with a certain ordered dwelling, now on a higher 
pitch . . . now on a lower. . . . "That's never the 
wind !" say I to myself, and I put up my head in a 
hurry. 

But it's nothing more mysterious than the young 
choir in the loft, just about to launch upon their 
timid "Kyri-e-e" and in their midst the poor school- 
master with his head down, doing his best to hit on 
a good key. . . . 

"And even then he doesn't seem to get it. It's 
always either too high or too low for them," said 
Father Allan. . . . 

The sacristy, still open to the winds, serves only 
for changing the air of the chapel when that grows 
too heavy with the smell of peat-reek in the woolens. 
Between Mass and sermon Father Allan lets the 
door stand open, — not too long, for sake of "the 
long black lad" who has a cough. Robing himself 
before us at the Epistle side, when he kneels at the 
front of the altar, a slim lad with a wisp of sea-grass 
dangling from his dark-blue jersey kneels beside him. 

Have I said that Father Allan is by a shade the 
tallest in his island? To see him striding round it 
on a week-day, I cannot but please myself with 
fancying him in some such manly dress as, say, 
the hunting-pink, or the casque and cuirass of the 
Life Guards, or — better yet — the kilt, and the bon- 



224 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

net and feather no head in all the Highlands would 
have worn more gallantly. But his stateliness and 
his somewhat stem favour serve him no less well as 
now, when his look and his bearing are alike set in 
another key. Aloof, remote all through the Mass, 
his eyes closed whenever he turns towards us, when 
he faces us for the Gaelic sermon it is as though he 
had come back from far away. 

Clasping and unclasping his long fingers, consider- 
ing first the one palm, then the other, he seems to 
search them for his text. Considering us now square- 
ly, he says the first words slowly . . . but soon he 
is off. . . . "He is catching up with the surge, and 
the surge couldn't catch up with him, — not the 
mother of the spindrift herself!" 

Graceless enough is my appreciation. . . . But 
then, I was never a sermon-taster: my ear, too, is 
weary with tracing, the week through, the links of 
Island airs that never take the turn one looks for. 
To sheer enjoyment of the ear and eye — for he 
moves as to music — I give myself over : how much of 
a preacher he was I leave for himself in some sort 
to be saying. 

"For the first few Sundays after I came to Dali- 
brog I went along quietly enough," he tells me. 
"Then all at once I put a great smoke out of my- 
self in the pulpit; and when the people were going 
home they were saying to each other, 'There's some- 
thing in the long fair man !' " 



cow OF CURSES 

'Bb nam mollach air an-t-sliabh. 
Bo nam beannachd anns a' chliabh; 
Cow of curses on the hill. 
Cow of blessings in the creel." 



There's a dark word for you ! 

But supposing one reckoned his wealth by his 
cattle, as men used. Well, then : wouldn't a cow on 
the hill-grazings mean prosperity to him? While a 
cow that would die would be cut up and brought 
down by the creel-load; and so an end to it and to 
prosperity as well. But in prosperity might be a 
curse, as in the want of it a blessing. 

It's a word not so dark after all, and a very com- 
fortable one withal to such as may be well-to-do, 
whereby in some sort to hold themselves discharged 
from alms-giving. 

Comfortable too — for want of other comforts — 
is it to the people on the machcdr of Uist, where- 
about they tell this tale : 

"Our Blessed Lady and the Holy Child were walk- 
ing one day through a townland. They went into a 
well-looking house and sat down at the back of the 

225 



226 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

door; but there was neither bite nor sup offered 
them, nor were they asked to sit near the fire. So 
they went on through the townland. 

"There was a poor woman standing at the door 
of her hut. . . . 'Come in, come in, — for goodness' 
sake come in!' she cried; 'you must be tired!' 

"She put them down by the fire and said to her 
boys (there was a crowd of them), 'Get away with 
you to the hill as fast as you can, and bring in the 
cow !' She milked it and gave them drink. It was 
all she had. 

"When they went away, Our Lady said, 'And 
what will you do for her?' 

"Our Lord said : 

'Cow of curses on the hill, 
Cow of blessings in the creel.' " 

" 'Wouldn't it be hard for her to lose all she has*?' 
said Our Lady (for well she knew He meant to kill 
the cow). 

" 'She will be all the richer for that, for then she 
will have God alone,' was the answer of the Holy 
Child." 

God alone! 

They know, or near, what that is, on the Edge 
of the World in the winter. And their priests who 
summer and winter it there with their poor people, 
and hunger with them, too, doubtless fail not, as in 
duty bound, to preach its blessedness. But I doubt 



cow OF CURSES 227 

if they press that quite so far as does the tale — so did 
not, at least, the priest of Eriskay. 

Whatever would bring a cow to the byre and 
more grass to its keep, more milk to the children, 
more peats to the fire, more bannocks to everyone, 
and the taste of summer (butter) on them now and 
then, — these and such-like matters he helped for- 
ward all he could; not concerned — ^man of tonuisg 
that he was — lest they should prove a Cow of Curses. 

But how might it be with himself — were he con- 
tent or no? No woman could but wonder. So, hav- 
ing the chance one fine day, I was so English as to 
ask him. And he took no offence; for, indeed, he 
had just then been telling me of a time before his 
priesting when his heart had so misgiven him as 
to his own unworthiness that at last he must confess 
it. 

"Would you wish to be anything but a priest?" 
asked his director. 

"Not I!" said the lad. 

"Then a priest you should be," declared the old 
man. . . . "And I'd have broken my heart if he'd 
said anything else," added Father Allan. 

"Were you ever sorry since?" 

"Never once!" 

II 

Sundown and a windless calm, and we out on 
Rudha Ban getting our mouthful. 



228 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

Far out-by on the reefs to West, grey-dark and 
small against the dazzle, foams up by times and 
falls again some wave of the Atlantic, come all the 
way from Labrador to leap and to fling on these 
outledges of the world. The sun, westering low, 
flings his long red breacan straight out towards us on 
the water, where it lies well-nigh without a wrinkle 
or a fold. Small and shorn of his rays as he sinks, 
he lowes red in the haze as a peat-coal. 

The rocks at our feet change all at once from grey 
to violet, the grass-blades to tiny flames of green. 
The blaze on the water would blind you. 

To save our eyes, we look Northwards, where Uist, 
fading like a cloud, hangs in the Kyles as in a nether 
sky. All untroubled they lie : far out-by to East the 
sea and sky are met with never a seam. 

"Uist is like a new-made world!" half-whispers 
Father Allan. 

Ill 

Now here are a hundred and fifty of islands, not 
counting the reefs and the skerries, and folk in may- 
be forty. But — would you believe it? — they look 
any day for another. 

"What news?" asked a man of the priest, one day 
on the machair of Uist. 

Just for a joke he answered, "Och, nothing much ! 
— only there's an island come up off Barra, and it 
full of red-headed people." 



cow OF CURSES 229 

"Didn't I always say Roccabarra would be com- 
ing up at last !" cried the man. 

And will Roccabarra be as she were new-made 
in that day, I wonder? — or is she old already on the 
floor of the deep sea as Innse-Gcdll itself? 

What time fire and sword worked men's will over- 
head, and the stuff of the sagas and sgeulan (and of 
Blue Books, too) was in the making, was she lying 
there below it all, unmindful — ^beyond storm's 
breath or warfare's rumour — safe-sunk in her still 
depths whereover the sailing and oaring were as 
clouds that hurry in the lift? 

The shaky coracles of bull's-hide stretched on 
sticks, that carried the Cross to the Islesmen; the 
long-ships hung round with the shields of Lochlan- 
ners, beating the waves with half-a-hundred oars; 
the Lords of the Isles in their lymphads; the brig 
that brought Prince Charlie; the plague-ship steer- 
ing to the Land of Trees with the people that were 
put away ; the biorlinn that carried away the last of 
Boisdale's line, — all these and more were passing 
once where now go only brown-sailed fishing-boats; 
to shed a shadow less or longer on the red-heads 
down below; to darken their day for a space and 
fare out-by. 

And they, unvexed of fire at any rate if not of 
sword, begetting and bearing and tying of thumbs 
under-seas; at their digging and delving, their card- 
ing and spinning and telling of tales or whatever; 



230 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

unknowing all of that great Tale of Tales men some- 
time gave up life to tell in Innse-Gaill up-by, — 
what might have been their own sea-haps, I won- 
der, first and last? Will it be with the Celtic 
Gloom on them that they shall rise? 

But it's not coarse weather, surely, that should 
sadden them when once they're up, nor the Tide of 
the Seven Changes even that should keep them in- 
doors and in harbour, whose weltering skies would 
drop them down a foundered galley whiles afore- 
time, and whiles would rain slain fighting-men in 
helms and ring-sarks, red-staining round them as 
they sank. 

I hope they've a good Scots tongue in their red 
heads, for so there'll be grand ceilidh of a winter's 
night with them in Roccabarra, with stories from 
the host till day. 

IV 

But it's little of her by-gones, good or ill, that 
any Outer Isle of these shows forth when the sun's 
setting clear in a calm. 

Who'd be thinking it then that time was and the 
haze was thick with reek of Uist's thatches, a long- 
ship riding in the Kyles, and white-headed Strang- 
ers at grips with Picts and Scots where now a little 
beach-fire bums, sending up in the still air a warn- 
ing not of war, but only of someone wanting 
over? 



cow OF CURSES 231 

Who'd think, to see her now, on famine and Fiery 
Cross and fuaraidh-froisde, on sheep put in where 
men were, and men shipped like sheep to the market? 

Who'd mind the thousand years of fire and sword 
she's by with, the passing of things as they were and 
the Putting-away of the People? — and that's a sgeul 
would gloom you, Celt or Sasunnach, to hear. 

Nor need you be going to any old wife for it : it's 
all in the Blue Books, though hardly so pretty by 
name. 

The Islesman for me for pretty naming! — what- 
ever the thing be itself. 

And God knows that thing was nothing short of 
sin and a black shame./ 

When the storm-cloud was stooping on Uist, and 
she, purple-black, scowling back at it, — as is, indeed, 
her very frequent humour, — Father Allan used to 
say, "And there's your Celtic Gloom for you!" 

Well, — and what wonder? 

The wonder is rather to see her as now — as she 
were Roccabarra, risen within the hour, and all un- 
trodden as a cloud. 



Down at the water's edge breaks out, like cotton 
at the cracking of the boll, a puff of thick white 
smoke; tumbles up through the haze with more and 
more smoke tumbling after; loses heart up aloft for 



232 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

all its hurry — spreads — thins — sinks — flows out at 
last along the water, and there lies heaping slowly. 

"Someone is wanting over!" cries Father Allan. 
... It is, indeed, his own old signal, and at his 
own old place. 

"Many a time you've waited there," say I. 

"Yes," he replies, and, "Yes," again; and his 
voice is one's whose thoughts are pleasing him. I 
look up at him as we stand, and see him smiling, and 
his eyes following on the smoke. 

"Do you know," he says slowly (for him) ; "in all 
that time it never once occurred to me there was 
anything out of the way in it. . . . I've had a quiet, 
happy, restful life," he goes on, gazing still across 
the Kyles; "a quiet, happy, restful life. . . . And 
all in the one piece." 

So it was with this man in his last days, as it is 
with the sun at his westering; who looking back 
along the way he came, sees it lit up then so fair as 
never at noonday. 

Now he must be stout-shod who would be footing 
it in Innse-Gaill. 

But should he have the Triple Vow to keep, he 
might be finding something more of heart's-ease 
there than by some other way less rough. 



THE FERRY TO POLACHAR 

We are hard upon St. Michael's and the end of 
harvest — such as harvest is in Eriskay. But only 
that here and there along the uplands the oats and 
the barley stand stiff in their stocks, that Uist hills 
show deeper wine-and-rust-stains, we might be still 
at Lady-Day. For where there is neither woody 
ground nor orcharding, and few are the sowings of 
seed, summer may go and autumn come, and the eye 
make little note of change. But one day in a neuk 
of the glen we come upon the whole tribe of the 
starlings at their hosting. And this is a sign to 
myself. ... I must be flitting, too, I say; though, 
"You need not be hurrying!" says Father Allan. 

And so, some few days later, near three in the 
afternoon, the sail-boat lies alongside Rudha Ban 
and we stand waiting — Father Allan and I, the 
painter from The Other House, the girl that's away 
to the fish-curing at Yarmouth, and some women 
come down to be wishing me, "Good passage!" — 
while Gilleaspuig and the lads are getting the big 
box with the little harp in it across the seaware and 
aboard. Then Gilleaspuig, one foot on the gun- 
wale and one on the rocks, puts out his hand to me, 
and with that I think, I must be saying good-bye 

233 



234 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

now to Father Allan. But the word is not out of my 
mouth when he says, "I'll see you on your way." 

So, then, we are four for the ferry, besides Gil- 
leaspuig and the lads that are to help him with the 
oars and sail. The bow for them, the thwarts for 
the rest of us, while "The stern-seat's always for 
me!" says Father Allan. 

Our course is laid for Polachar. Kilbride is the 
nearer, but the mile or so between, while well enough 
for walking, is otherwise for two-wheeled carts. At 
Polachar, then, for the sake of our bones and what 
is in the box, the piper is trysted to meet us; and for 
love of what I am leaving, as well as of sailing on a 
day between two weathers, I could wish the ferry 
longer still. 

For this is a day of such light airs that, only for 
rowing at the last, our sail shall hardly bring us over, 
for all the waters lie so sleek and still. To see them 
thus, that only yesterday were keeping boats in har- 
bour, one might suppose some vast libation poured 
out in the night-time to appease them, and still over- 
lying them; blue spilled on green and green on violet, 
strange oils and wines that still delay to mingle; 
whereover lengthens more and more our milk-white 
wake, like to a clue unwinding slowly as we sail. 

To South of South-westwards, that being to sun- 
wards, the blue, the green, and the violet dance away 
into a dazzle of no colour nameable; wherethrough 
— if one may endure to be looking — we glimpse 



THE FERRY TO POLACHAR 235 

something moving, small and blackish, on the reefs. 
The seals, says someone, and they sunning them- 
selves there now the tide is out. By times we hear 
them barking ... a queer sound, and hinting that 
only for spells they are under, they would be the 
same as you or I.^ 

Still we hear them, and still the far end of our 
foam-tether holds at Rudha Ban; and already the 
unearthlike look of far-off things is on the isle that 
drops astern. Already the Island of Youth lies in 
those reaches where, for some of us. Youth lies it- 
self. . . . And where's the sail shall bring us back 
again, who've stood out-by? . . . Already is Father 
Allan's Island slipping — as he himself is slipping 
fast even now, did I but know it ! — across the edge 
of Time. One by one, one by one, the black houses 
creep in amongst Beann Sgrithean's roots and hide 
themselves. Beann Sgrithean and Beann Stac lay 
their two heads together: Rudha Ban, for its white- 
ness, stands out for a little. . . . 

But the thick purple-blueness gains fast on the 
four walls that housed me since Lady-Day, and the 
roof that covered me last night, and the belfry that 
sounded my waking when the sun that now is wes- 
tering was still behind Beann Sgrithean. . . . 

^"A man tried to kill a seal at Struathan Sgat-an-Luatha, North 
Uist, but it got ETvay. Some time after, he was in Harris. He 
saw three red-headed brothers in a house, and one of them asked 
if he remembered the seal. He said it was himself, under a 
spell." — From Father Allan's notes. 



236 



FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 



The mists of the Isles, and the mists that are more 
than Hebridean are blurring them, blotting them, 
drowning them deeper and deeper. . . . 

But not for that, be sure, would Father Allan wait 
to say, "Gabh oran!" nor does Gilleaspuig need a 
second bidding. So again I hear the song he sang 
last night in Father Allan's kitchen: 

M. M. J=84. Keeping time with the foot on the floor. 



m 



^zzi^ 



i53^_E23 



^r^—:^-*-^. 



mf 



Nu-air is mi leam fhin, Bi tu tigh'nn fo m'air-e ; 



-N — N- 



:A=3ir! 



daz 



r 



s^fc 



~^=^ 



-P — 5^ 



Bi mi tog - ail fonn - Airni'ndonnnammeall-shiil'; 



-FINE. 



K-^-^-^h ^- 



^ES^5^^^ 



=s 



^ 



^ 



'Nu-air is mi leam fhin Bi tu ti^nn-fo m'air-e. 



^^ 



:S=ffi 



'Smis 



tha 



fo chur - am, 's mi 



5^ 



^ 



^ 



fi 



^^ 



'stiir - adh nam bior-linn; Ciu - mar bhi sibb tigh'nn, 



^^ 



^£ 



se 



w^ 



-5' — ^ 



Cba mi tha air m'air-e' Nu-air is mi leam fhin. 



THE FERRY TO POLACHAR 237 

When I'm with myself, 

You'll be coming o'er me ; 
I'll be lifting song 

To the soft-eyed maiden. 
It's myself that am throng 

And I steering the biorlinn; 
How I'll hold her straight, 

That is all my thinking. 

The voice of our sgiobair^ is deep as the bochdan's^ 
up my chimney in the house on Rudha Ban, who 
hums there up-by in the night-time when the wind is 
rising; yet never did harp-string, high nor low, sing 
sweeter. And even as the wind itself shall warn 
you, by its savour, whether it blew from off the hills 
or off salt water, so by the deep-sea sound that's in 
Gilleaspuig's throttle you shall know him for none 
of the landward sort. Neither do his looks belie 
him, for what with sun and wind and spindrift, his 
cheek is well-nigh brown as his own sail. And aye 
he has the other verse, and aye as the chorus comes 
round we all lift under, while now as we near the 
land the light wind fails us. So the lads get out the 
oars and fall to pulling slowly. 

Seumas is waiting, close down by the shore-rocks. 
They lift in the box, I climb in and sit upon it, 
Seumas starts up the pony, and down the lane and 
round M'Askill's peat-stack in the turn of it we jog 
and jolt. And so long as I am seeing Father Allan, 
he stands swinging his cap to me, while I swing mine 
to him. 

' Skipper. ' Boch-kan — goblin. 



238 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

"And what will you be doing here all winter?" I 
had asked him. 

"Och, — making songs, I suppose !" 

And even as he said ft he was well-nigh done with 
songs and singing and all else. 

For already it stood in the offing, the sail that was 
to take him over his last ferry, before another winter 
should set in. 



OIDHCHE MHATH 

No matter how long were the road of the Gael in 
his life-time, there is just one spot on earth where 
he would have it end. In the Ur-chais,^ the home- 
ground, with his forbears, he would come back to lie 
at the last. 

Now the graves of Father Allan's kindred are in 
Far Lochaber, yet he would have his nowhere but in 
Eriskay. . . ."Let me be buried amongst my dead 
and near to my living people, that I may be near 
them, and that they and I may rise together at the 
Last Day," was his last wish. 

The little God's-acre of his island overlooks the 
strand and tops a sand-bluff, with the Baile at its 
back. When Father Allan first came, he found it 
overgrown with grass and nettles, sheep nibbling 
there and children playing, and nets spread out upon 
the mounds to dry. He had it cleared and mowed 
and fenced with broken oars and bits of drift-wood; 
and thereto, a fortnight past St. Michael's, his peo- 
ple brought him shoulder-high. And when it came 
to putting the sand over him it was neither with 
spade nor with shovel they were lifting it, but each 
was taking up his handful. 

"06r-chash. Ch guttural. 

239 



240 FATHER ALLAN'S ISLAND 

So there he rests at last in his own island, who in 
an earlier age had been its Saint. The sand and the 
spindrift are blowing above him; all day about the 
place the sea-gulls flap and wheel. Hard-by in the 
Baile the folk are at work and the children at play. 
And if he hear them where he lies, so shall he sleep 
the sweeter. 

Long time or ever I knew you, Father Allan, the 
Finger of Death was on you. Yet as young in your 
Island of Youth I can see you; in the mist, in the 
rain, at the ferry; keeping up your fire that is to let 
them know out-by the priest is wanting over, and in 
your mouth the torraman of a song. 

Many a song may one be hearing, and many a turn 
of the tongue. Many a thing may one be learning 
and forgetting before the tying of the thumbs. But 
the speech of his mother who bore him, and the songs 
she crooned him before he was speaking — he HAS 
them. 

And some of us had you life-long, Father Allan, 
and one but from a Lady-Day to near St. Michael's. 
But whether for longer or less, whoever had you 
once shall have you ever. 

Your song is done, your fire is smoored. The man 
at the ferry is over at last. 

But the breast-sons shall see their sons' sons, nor 
shall you be forgot. 



fl